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.