Population Change and International and Internal Migration in Italy, 2002-2017: Ravenstein Revisited

  • Federico Benassi Italian National Institute of Statistics
  • Corrado Bonifazi Institute for Research on Population and Social Policies (IRPPS)
  • Frank Heins Institute for Research on Population and Social Policies (IRPPS)
  • Francesca Licari Italian National Institute of Statistics
  • Enrico Tucci Italian National Institute of Statistics
Keywords: Internal migration, International migration, Population redistribution, Socio-economic factors, Italy, Local Labour Market Areas


In 1885, Ravenstein formulated his “laws” of migration, based on the experience of the British Isles. In a further 1889 paper, he extended his analysis as a tour d’horizon of migration and population changes in other nations, including Italy. Even if social and economic processes including globalisation and rising mobility have changed the world since then, Ravenstein’s “laws” remain a point of reference today. Harnessing theoretical and methodological advances made since the 19th century, this paper describes and seeks to explain the role of international and internal migration in regional population change in Italy from 2002-2017. This paper provides the first geographically detailed migration analysis for the country’s 611 Local Labour Market Areas (LLMAs), using register-based migration and population data. Our contribution focuses on several of Ravenstein’s “laws” relating to gender (differences between men and women), natives and non-natives (differences between the Italian and the foreign population), distance migrated from origin to destination, and the role of the economy in shaping push and pull factors of migration. The results show that international migration is more prominent among men than women. In the case of internal moves, the rates of migration among men and women are similar, and internal migration is more prominent among the foreign than the native Italian population. Overall, international migration gains contribute substantially more to population change than internal migration gains and losses do. In Italy, the effects of persistent economic imbalances and of distance on migration patterns are not in line with Ravenstein’s hypotheses: not all areas with high unemployment show an effect of dispersion, nor does distance always act as a deterrent to migration. The geographically detailed analysis presented here illustrates the temporal and spatial coexistence of diverse international and internal migration processes depending on local characteristics, as well as the importance of the economic or administrative centres as the driving force behind national patterns. Our results show that, even 130 years after their formulation, Ravenstein’s migration “laws” (more accurately called “hypotheses” today) are still a valuable starting point in assessing and understanding migration processes and their role in regional population change.


* This article belongs to a special issue on “Internal Migration as a Driver of Regional Population Change in Europe: Updating Ravenstein”.

How to Cite
Benassi, F., Bonifazi, C., Heins , F., Licari, F. and Tucci, E. 2020. Population Change and International and Internal Migration in Italy, 2002-2017: Ravenstein Revisited. Comparative Population Studies. 44, (Sep. 2020). DOI:https://doi.org/10.12765/CPoS-2020-16.
Research Articles