Spatial labour mobility in a transition economy: Migration and commuting in Chile

Rowe, Francisco (2013). Spatial labour mobility in a transition economy: Migration and commuting in Chile PhD Thesis, School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, The University of Queensland.

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Author Rowe, Francisco
Thesis Title Spatial labour mobility in a transition economy: Migration and commuting in Chile
School, Centre or Institute School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2013
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Martin Bell
Tom Wilson
Total pages 293
Total colour pages 27
Total black and white pages 266
Language eng
Subjects 160401 Economic Geography
160404 Urban and Regional Studies (excl. Planning)
160303 Migration
Formatted abstract
Spatial mobility is widely recognised as an integral component of national development. According to transition theory, as countries modernise and become globally connected, the intensity, forms and patterns of mobility evolve, reshaping activity networks and human settlement. Mobility transitions commonly occur over extended timeframes but can also be triggered by rapid transformations in the national context. Chile provides an ideal exemplar. Over the last four decades, it transitioned from a closed, centrally-planned economy with a socialist government to a globally integrated, market-driven system under military and democratic regimes. This has signicantly transformed Chile's space economy. While prior research has explored particular facets of the mobility accompanying these shifts, no concerted attempt has been made to systematically trace the evolution of mobility in Chile and its connections to the socio-economic and political context.

Chile provides a unique setting to explore these connections. It has a unique geography, settlement pattern and resource endowment; it displays levels of internal migration well above those in most parts of the world; and it has a small foreign-born population, so that unlike many other high mobility countries, internal mobility can be explored practically free from the complicating component of international migration. Chile also has the advantage of high quality migration data spanning the period in which the major socio-economic transition occurred.

This thesis aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of the evolution of labour mobility in Chile by exploring connections between various forms and dimensions of mobility and the sequence of changes experienced by the country during its transition to a market-driven economy. To this end, it considers internal migration and long-distance commuting between thirteen Chilean regions, and focuses on three key dimensions: their intensity, spatial patterns and composition. It also aims to determine the role of migration and commuting in meeting shifts in labour demand. These objectives are embedded in a temporal framework that traces the changing environment within which mobility unfolds and seeks to provide robust statistical evidence on its links with structural changes in the national context.

The methodological framework blends mobility transition theory derived from Zelinsky (1971) with a suite of cutting-edge statistical techniques. To implement this framework, the thesis couples a carefully-constructed historical framework with a purpose-built database, assembled by harmonising data from three consecutive censuses (1982, 1992 and 2002), which provides five-year snapshots of migration covering the periods 1977-82, 1987-92 and 1997-02, together with data on commuting in 2002.

As in Australia, the US and the UK, the analysis reveals that both the intensity and the spatial impact of labour migration in Chile declined over the period of analysis, with the most marked reduction occurring in the spatial impact of migration. What appeared to trigger the decline in migration intensity were structural changes in the composition of the workforce due to ageing, rising homeownership and increasing concentration of the workforce in the Metropolitan region. Together, these factors increased the share of the less mobile groups in the workforce, triggering the drop in the propensity to migrate. The industrial restructuring of the workforce produced marginal shifts in migration intensity. However, coupled with an increasing spatial concentration of agricultural employment growth, it generated a major transformation in the industry composition of inter-regional migration  ows. The shares of migrants employed in trade, construction, agriculture and business services increased, while those employed in public administration and community and personal services declined.

The main force driving the marked reduction in spatial impact was the process of economic liberalisation. The consolidation of the market-oriented model of economic development triggered a sharp rise in the volume and regional dispersion of foreign direct investment and exports, leading to a more balanced pattern of regional development. This in turn transformed the national migration network. The network shifted from domination by uni-directional movements to the Metropolitan region, where employment growth was concentrated, to a more balanced distribution of migration flows, with this region displaying net losses for the first time from 1900, and natural resource regions reporting increasing migration in flows as companies sought access to these resources. The migration system shifted to an exchange process that has predominantly acted to preserve the human settlement pattern, rather than generating any signicant changes.

Simultaneously, migration has played an efficient role in adjusting labour imbalances in regional labour markets. It has moved surplus labour from agricultural regions in central-southern Chile and in the remote south, where growth in labour demand was low, to northern mining regions and the Metropolitan region, where labour demand was high. However, the signicance of migration as a labour market adjustment mechanism has lessened marginally. Migration shifted from accounting 9% of the labour market adjustment in 1982-92 to only 8% between 1992 and 2002. Rather than from a decline in the number of migrants, this drop was due to a sharp rise in female labour participation.

As anticipated by Zelinsky, as Chile developed, long-distance commuting emerged as an alternative to migration. However, the overall extent of this spatial process has been small. Commuting is less prevalent than in most OECD countries and has comprised the smallest labour market response to employment shifts, accounting for less than 1% of the overall change in labour supply. Nevertheless, it has been signicant in some regions, particularly mining and shing regions where it comprised over 5% of the local workforce. Coupled with the temporary character of construction projects and regional disparities in housing costs and employment opportunities, the nature and remote location of mining and military activities have been the key forces shaping the patterns of long-distance commuting in Chile.

Paradoxically, the aggregate picture indicates that the chaotic transformation of the Chilean space-economy over the period 1977 to 2002 acted to produce spatial equilibrium in the mobility system. The system moved to a state of lower overall levels of migration and greater balance of migration flows, with the Metropolitan region playing a diminished role and natural resource regions experiencing improvements in net migration outcomes. This increased equilibrium in the migration network has resulted in a deceleration of the population concentration process in the Metropolitan region, shifting the regional distribution of population towards greater stability.
Keyword Migration
Labour market
Spatial analysis
Labour force
Migration modelling

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Created: Wed, 25 Sep 2013, 10:48:27 EST by Francisco Rowe Gonzalez on behalf of University of Queensland Graduate School