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The role of geographical mobility in combating inequalities in Quebec

September 25, 2023

Update : May 17, 2024

For the first time in Quebec, a study is focusing on the influence of geographical mobility on the perpetuation of social inequalities across several generations.

social mobility, geographical mobility.

The research team’s complementary areas of expertise gave a fresh perspective on one of the mechanisms that may underpin social mobility in Quebec, namely geographical mobility.

Published in the PERSPECTIVES journal of the Centre interuniversitaire de recherche en analyse des organisations (CIRANO) in September 2023, the analysis was conducted by professors Xavier St-Denis and Yacine Boujija of the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) and professor Marie Connolly of UQAM’s School of Management.

“Our team’s complementary areas of expertise gave us a fresh perspective on one of the mechanisms that may underpin social mobility in Quebec, namely geographical mobility. Until now, this factor had not received as much attention as other social mobility factors, such as post-secondary education,” says INRS professor Xavier St-Denis, who specializes in social inequalities.

This study is the first to examine the influence of geographical mobility on the intergenerational transmission of income in Quebec. The research team used Statistics Canada’s Intergenerational Income Database (IID) to draw its conclusions, by following the lives of young Quebecers into their thirties.

This data documented approximately 1.4 million personal journeys. The statistics collected are a true treasure trove of information, including the socio-economic situation of the families in which the individuals grew up. That quality of the data opened the door to an intergenerational analysis.

Social and geographical mobility

Internal geographical migration is any change of one’s usual place of residence within the same country. In this case, it refers to relocations between metropolitan areas, urban agglomerations, or rural areas in Quebec. As for social mobility, it refers to the relationship between the socio-economic status of parents and that achieved by their children once they are adults. A strong relationship indicates a low level of social mobility: children born into the most underprivileged families tend to also have low income as adults.

“ Based on our research, geographical mobility may be a potentially significant factor of social mobility in Quebec—but only for part of the population. ”

Yacine Boujija, INRS professor and demographer.

According to the results, the likelihood of a first geographical migration in Quebec is linked to both the age and the region of origin of a young person—peaking at age 23 on average.

Over the period studied, young people living outside major urban centres were more likely to resort to internal migration than those from the seven census metropolitan areas, i.e., Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa-Gatineau, Sherbrooke, Saguenay, Trois-Rivières, and Drummondville. Internal geographical migration is usually driven by the pursuit of post-secondary education or employment, often with the aim of improving living conditions.

The study’s findings seem to support the idea that geographical mobility might help young people climb the social ladder in Quebec. “However, our findings also highlight the disadvantageous socio-economic situation faced by those who do not wish or are unable to leave the region they grew up in, compared to those who do migrate to major centres,” explains Boujija.

Going into greater depth

Despite initiatives aimed at promoting equal opportunities for all young people, the transmission of inequalities from one generation to the next has worsened in Quebec in recent decades.

By following these different journeys, the researchers have noted that the socio-economic status of young people living in a rural area at age 16 and having grown up in an underprivileged family deteriorated between the 1960s and the 1980s. This is especially true for those who did not migrate to another region during their lifetime. They were particularly affected by the lack of social mobility. Conversely, the status of young people who grew up in wealthier families improved over the same period.

While this study does not provide a thorough exploration of this phenomenon, it does offer a better understanding of the reality of Quebecers in terms of geographical migration and young people’s life journeys.

“ The Quebec government has already put in place a number of tools to promote equal opportunities among the population, such as access to CEGEP and the creation of a network of public universities. Yet, our analysis shows that the transmission of inequalities from one generation to the next has increased over time. ”

Marie Connolly, UQAM’s School of Management professor

Our analysis does not allow us to identify a causal relationship between migration and social mobility, but our findings suggest that there is a connection between the two. It would be interesting to continue investigating this relationship to determine to what extent social mobility could be supported by policies that encourage geographical mobility,” concludes professor and economist Marie Connolly.

The three researchers also see this first study as an invitation to explore major questions in greater depth for future generations: if internal geographical mobility—or on the contrary, geographical “immobility”—seems to affect the standard of living in adulthood, how can we ensure all young people are offered the same opportunities? How can we build a society where social mobility remains possible for new generations?

About the paper

The paper “Monter dans le train et gravir l’échelle sociale. Le rôle de la mobilité géographique dans la lutte contre les inégalités au Québec” (“Take the train and climb the social ladder. The role of geographical mobility in the fight against inequality in Quebec”) was published in the September issue of the PERSPECTIVES journal by Yacine Boujija, Marie Connolly, and Xavier St-Denis.

This paper is a short version of a full report published in June 2023 by the same authors: Boujija, Y., Connolly, M. & St-Denis, X. (2023). Mobilité géographique et transmission intergénérationnelle du revenu au Québec (Geographical mobility and intergenerational transmission of income in Quebec). (2023RP-11, project reports, CIRANO.) 47 pages.

The three researchers received financial support from the Centre interuniversitaire de recherche en analyse des organisations (CIRANO) to conduct this study.