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Quito, Cuenca and Panama City Were Net Recipients of Immigration in the Past Decade

2 December 2013|News

ECLAC study analyses the migratory pull of eight Latin American cities and the impact on suburban spread.


Ciudad de Cuenca
Foto: Eduardo Santillán, Presidencia de la República del Ecuador/Flickr

Quito, Cuenca and Panama City were net recipients of migration in the past decade, whereas Mexico City and Guayaquil posted a negative migration balance, according to a study published by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) to analyse the migratory pull of eight Latin American cities and the impact on suburban spread.

The research published in Notas de Población N° 96 Review, entitled "Internal migration in the major Latin American cities: effects on demographic growth and population composition" (only in Spanish), was carried out by the sociologist and demographer Jorge Rodríguez, Research Assistant in the Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Centre (CELADE) - Population Division of ECLAC.

The study was produced using micro-databases of the first three countries in the region with data available from the 2010 round of censuses and that had kept records in the decade from 2000: Ecuador, Mexico and Panama. The cities analysed were Cuenca, Guayaquil and Quito; Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey and Tijuana; and Panama City, respectively. All of these are major cities in the countries concerned.

The research article emphasizes that large cities are experiencing a series of structural and functional changes, such as moving from a compact form to a looser shape, the formation of expanded metropolitan regions and the transition from monocentric cities to polycentric cities.

Amidst such transformations, data from the 2000 round of censuses reveal a mixed situation in terms of the migratory pull of large cities, although a comparison between 2000 and 2010 census data suggests a downward trend to this pull and even a change to net emigration from certain cities.

The analysis highlights the importance that the political and administrative definition of the city and therefore its boundaries have on estimating its migratory pull. Calculating the migratory balance can yield very different results depending on which definition is used.

The research disaggregates the data down to smaller administrative divisions, known as cantons and parishes in Ecuador, municipalities or districts in Mexico and districts in Panama. Some definitions of cities exclude outlying smaller administrative divisions, where suburbanization occurs, and thus do not capture the true scale of cities.

This analysis therefore uses two territorial definitions for each city. One limited definition captures the urban area in 2000 (the area occupied by a city's population) and another expanded definition looks at the extent of the area in 2010, while considering these new territories as part of the city. The author uses these definitions to make retrospective comparisons for each city.

Only two of the eight cities studied, Mexico City and Guayaquil, were unquestionably sources of emigration in 2010, as they posted negative migration balances using both definitions.

Meanwhile, Monterrey, Guadalajara and Tijuana post negative migration balances considering the limited territorial definition, but positive balances using the extended definition, which suggests a major process of suburbanization in the decade from 2000.

Quito, Cuenca and Panama City recorded positive net migration under both definitions, which makes them into undeniably attractive cities - according to Rodríguez.

The research article also presents a methodology for estimating the effect of migration on the composition by sex, age and education in cities. The results show that migration tends to boost the demographic bonus (because cities hold a special attraction for young people, aged 15 to 29, whose arrival increases the proportion of working-age population), while slightly reducing the level of education.

In terms of the latter point, the study shows that this decrease is more due to emigration from cities than to immigration, as the people leaving large towns tend to have a higher average level of education than those who stay. In any event, most emigrants do not go to the countryside to engage in rural activities, but move to other cities or suburbs linked to the city which are not included in the broader territorial definitions.