On measuring Lifestyle Migration and the case for a qualitative definition

By Aude Etrillard

A few weeks ago, a query regarding the volume of Lifestyle Migration (LM) was made on the LM hub mailing list and tickled the interests of the hub members.  Undeniably, many of us seem to have been facing the challenge of evaluating the volume of the populations we are studying on our various research contexts. After a few email exchanges it appeared that no one had been entirely successful in measuring the number of lifestyle migrants so far, leaving us first to wonder why, and consequently, whether LM could be quantifiable at all.

From one place to another, the data used to evaluate the volume of LM varies: statistics on foreigners from affluent countries that are registered as residents, the number of residence and long-term tourist visa issued or the number of properties bought by foreigners. However, all of these figures have loopholes and contributors to the discussion mentioned a list of difficulties that they faced in their estimation of the volume of LM:

  • A possible lack of willingness from migrants to be tracked and registered, and therefore counted in censuses
  • A lack of willingness from institutions to compile and share consistent data from one year to another
  • The impossibility of using nationality as a way of determining whether an individual is a LM.
  • The impossibility of deducting a precise number of migrants from the number of property transactions with foreigners
  • The impossibility of excluding those who are not property owners from the profiling of lifestyle migrants
  • The peripatetic nature of the life of many lifestyle migrants
  • The absence of a precise definition of the concept of LM

So far, regional scale estimation based on the empirical work of researchers seem to give more accurate results than nation scale estimation. Perhaps the compilation of such regional estimations would tend to give a clearer picture of migration. In Turkey, Ilkay Südaş estimates the number of lifestyle migrants as between 50,000 and 100,000. Some figures might situate their number in Mexico and Spain over the million. In Brittany, I would estimate the number of LM migrants between 10,000 to 20,000; the majority of these are British. I am assuming most of us have been trying these types of assessments and it would probably be interesting to continue compiling these attempts.

Another possibility of increasing the accuracy of such estimations may be the development of better indicators by state institutions as they may become more concerned by a mobility whose impact on host and sending countries seem to be underestimated. In 2006, Sriskandarajah and Drew were already urging the British Office for National Statistics to be less exclusively following the concern of the politicians and the media for incoming migration and to direct their attention to outcoming flows that would most likely impact the country’s demography and politics. Likewise, in host countries, lifestyle migrants are barely perceived as migrants and seem to continue to be in the blind spot of national policy makers and statistic offices. For instance, until recently in Brittany the Moroccan population was systematically stated in the publications of the census results and the British were not despite the fact that the latter had outnumbered the former by far.

But as some have suggested the difficulty in evaluating the volume of LM might lie in the conceptual framework of Lifestyle Migration itself. In a recent paper, Raquel Huete, Alejandro Mantecón and Jesús Estévez developed this concern and called for a ‘more precise’ definition of lifestyle and ‘the use of a theoretical model of lifestyle that includes the actual practices in which the subjective preferences of social actors crystallise’, that would be applicable to statistical measurements of the migration dynamics. I would like to take the opportunity of this blog post to discuss, unfortunately too superficially, some points made by the authors.

While I agree on the fact that LM framework has been developed by and for qualitative research, and should not left unquestioned (and it is not), I do not think however that its inadaptability to quantitative research disqualify and should have us reframe the concept for it to fit statistical categorisation. Even more so, it may be interesting to note that a qualitative perspective may in fact be particularly relevant and legitimate to grasp some of the complexity and heterogeneity of the experience of globalisation by individuals, that may not only appear in their social actions but also in their narratives and the ideological conditions that led them to be who they are where they are. For instance it takes a qualitative insight to understand why a British worker settling in Alicante might still experience a different migration dynamic to a Polish worker although s/he shares a similar concern for quality of life and an economic power. The latter may not have come across commercial campaigns, TV shows, news article or travel literature that advertised for a dream life in Spain. Likewise, I argue the loss of economic privilege in the wake of the economic crisis by many (lifestyle) migrants is not a reason to requalify LM: several of us have pointed out how lifestyle migration lies on entrepreneurship and risks taken in property investments, this inevitably leads to such situations, and I would not equate labour and lifestyle migration on the basis of the comparable current wealth and consumption practices of migrants in the host country.

In the event of a reframing of lifestyle migration concept for quantitative analysis purpose, qualitative scientists might want to wonder what will be the use and efficiency of a concept tailored for quantitative analysis to investigate the meanings and conditions of everyday social practices. However, I agree that different tools have to be developed, or combined if we want a statistical assessment of the volume of lifestyle migration, and it is very likely that these might be different from one region to another. But this might need to be designed to address specific questions rather then to elaborate a potential objective, stable transferable definition of LM relying only on traces of social action. And finally maybe, LM as a whole may not need to be quantified and analysed, as policy makers might need to work on specific variations in the heterogeneity of lifestyle migrants’ experiences (retired, workers, poorer, richer, children, property owners, entrepreneurs, loss/gain of economic privilege, migrants from specific countries…).

 This blog draws on the contributions in the Lifestyle Hub mailing list including: Karen O’Reilly, Marco Eimermann, Eve Bantman, Ilkay Südaş, Caroline Oliver, Vicente Rodriguez, Kateřina Varhaník Wildová,  Aude Etrillard, Joaquín Rodes García, Ana Spalding and Nicholas Osbaldiston.

10 thoughts on “On measuring Lifestyle Migration and the case for a qualitative definition

  1. Great post Aude and that last comment has sparked my brain a bit. There has been some local government authorities here who do want it quantified but could never really tell me why. I suggested to them that maybe they don’t want the actual migration for lifestyle reasons measured but more the ‘types’ of people they might expect in the future. Getting that sort of information is not easy though as you’ve got to try and find populations who are considering moving. One way we’ve tried and failed in some ways to get that sort of information is by talking to second-home owners about whether they intend on moving or not. For the most part (around 80% of people we surveyed), they weren’t. But this doesn’t account for the person who takes a holiday to the coast and romantically dreams of one day being there permanently.

    Tourism I suppose is another area to consider – if you can somehow get statistics on how many current lifestyle migrants came out through ‘tourism’ you might be able to develop a statistical model to predict future demographics. It’s a hard question to quantify and I agree with you, each ‘place’ will have it’s own version of ‘lifestyle’ that will not be comparable with other areas.

    Great discussion!


    • I think Malaysia is a very interesting case. They have the “Malaysia My second home” program, which is meant for people who want to become lifestyle migrants there. One can get a long visa for this purpose if one has enough money. It is obviously very easy to make statistics of people who have acquired such visas and one can then predict future demographics too. Such a program is a very selective process but may become common in other countries as well. Most lifestyle migrants, however, are not participating in such organised programs but utilise various strategies to relocate themselves.


      • The trouble with the Malaysia my second home visa, Mari, is that many of those who obtain the visa have it for security reasons and do not actually live any or much of the year in Malaysia. They take it up as a fall-back in case they feel the need to leave their own country! And then there are many people who do live in Malaysia on three-month visas and they regularly do visa runs to Thailand to get their passports stamped as having left the country. What worries me is that this is such an insecure way to live. But what fasincates me is the ways in which governments use these special visas to include and exclude the groups they want to attract, and even to shape the sort of life they can live. The MM2H is a ten year social visit pass administered by the Tourism Office – that tells you sucha lot about what Malaysia wants from it.


      • Thanks Karen, now I see the problem. However, I agree with you that it is very interesting how some governments want to select certain kinds of (wealthy, healthy and consuming) lifestyle migrants. These kinds of programs enable (at least seemingly) certain administration and prediction and neat statistical numbers. The problem is, of course, that real people do not live according to the plans and wishes of governments and administrators 😉 and we would be interested in the statistics of these real people. It is also interesting that some countries allow repeated visa runs for tourist visas while others pose restrictions to such practices.


  2. Ok, this might be an ignorant question, though, are there any stats in regard to lifestyle migration for mixed nationalities to bring up kids in a neutral country? I personally have 2 sets of friends who have done that, ie Austrian / Danish and another Sri Lankan / Japanese, both are the same in that they met overseas & see Australia as a ‘neutral’ country to bring their kids up in, one where they won’t have perceived discrimination via each parents heritage, and the very obviously not forcing one’s country on the partner?


    • I don’t think that there are stats on this, although there might be ways of working this out through the census data and migration stats of some countries. I think that you are right that this is an interesting dimension to look into;. There’s been some popular literature on ‘third culture kids’ that might be interesting, but you might also want to look at Mari Korpela’s new work on family lifestyle migrants in Goa as these seem to fall into the category that you identify. I hope this is helpful!


  3. The concept of “Third Culture Kids” is another one that needs to be developed and the empirical realities need to be investigated. There will be a conference panel in the EASA conference in Tallinn (http://www.nomadit.co.uk/easa/easa2014/panels.php5?PanelID=3049) where we aim to pursue this goal. It is of course also an interesting question of definitions to elaborate on whether families of mixed marriages, living in “third” countries, are lifestyle migrants and if so, how do they differ from some other lifestyle migrants.


  4. Thanks for the response Mari 🙂

    I grew up in a very ethnic area, though when my daughter was was young (she is now 20) a lot of her friends had mixed marriage parents, obviously choosing the likes of the Gold Coast (where we were living at the time) as a ‘neutral’ ground to bring up their child, having had a holiday in Australia at some time earlier before kids. Thinking back now after the discussion on twitter, she went to an International Day Care & Kindy, but from memory, many of the parents were mixed nationalities?

    I saw a lot of them growing up unsure of which culture they actually identified with, so unsure how you would record those kids? Also, to add more to it, revisiting some of those kids in latter years of high school, they had ‘changed’ which culture they identified with?

    All really interesting 🙂


  5. We have followed with great interest the motivating discussion on the difficulty of quantifying the presence and movements of lifestyle migrants. Aude Etrillard has developed an enlightening synthesis, and we want to personally thank her comments about our paper published in Mobilities. We will be satisfied if our publication contributes in some way to promote the epistemological reflection on lifestyle migration (LM). In short, this was one of our main goals.
    In line with the ideas expressed by Aude, we emphasize the potential of the LM approach to conduct qualitative research. However, we do not believe that we should resign ourselves to accept “the absence of a definition of the concept sets of LM.” The lack of interest shown so far by the institutions to measure this type of mobility should not hide our responsibility as researchers. We know that to find a statistically operational definition of a phenomenon as heterogeneous as this one may tend to over-simplify it. However, this problem also appears when other types of mobility are studied, as in the case of population flows related to tourism. The definition of the World Tourism Organization sometimes seems absurd, but it allows us to establish measurements and comparisons, which are then adjusted with other quantitative and qualitative studies.
    If we finally assume that the definition of LM is flexible and therefore, must always be adapted to the context and the operational needs of each case study, we will also be forced to accept that the LM as a subject of study must be conformed and restricted by the specific methodology of ‘Qualitative Case Study’. Thus, the study of the LM would be suitable only for qualitative researchers. At first, recognizing this may not be a problem, but then we believe it would be necessary to answer at least two questions:
    • First, to clarify whether this is a result of the conceptual problems of defining LM or if, instead, is simply that the LM approach has never intended to articulate quantitative analysis.
    • Second, keeping in mind this methodological restriction, how can we know how many lifestyle migrants are living in a particular region?

    Best regards,
    Raquel (& on behalf of Alejandro Mantecon & Jesus Estevez)


  6. Raquel, Alejandro and Jesus,

    Sorry, I only saw this comment (and those also interesting above) today. Your paper in Mobilities did raised this very fascinating epistemological issue. Thank you for continuing the discussion, and indeed these are two very interesting questions your are leaving us with, and food for thoughts.

    To the first I would say, there was no intention either to have the framework of Lifestyle Migration only fitting to qualitative approach or exclude quantitative approach. But, yes, I would tend to say it just happened as qualitative scientists created their framework around their ethnographic data. My point was that quantitative scientists may need different tools to approach this type of phenomenon, that is not to try to count lifestyle migrants per se, and refine their tool around the angle they want to address. In this respect I think the last paragraph of the blog would be my reply to the second concern you raised.

    Now that I come to think of it, I am more and more inclined to not consider lifestyle migration as a category in which some migrants fit and others don’t. And it would be in fact consistent with a proposition I did during the conference in Lisbon last fall to see lifestyle as a fetiche (in a marxist understanding of the word). In other words, in this view lifestyle migration would not designate the persons (the migrants) but the economical process some migrants and some local actors are engaged in, that results and originates in social order. All of this is still quite fresh in my mind as I am writing, and may have already been written elsewhere. I had not that in mind when I was writing the blog, but it probably make sense of my point of view.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s