Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2022, Vol. 77 ›› Issue (12): 3146-3161.doi: 10.11821/dlxb202212013

• Regional Development • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Return migration intention: Heterogeneous effects from multidimensional distances over space

YIN Jiangbin1,2(), ZHANG Qianqian1, WU Wenjie3(), HUANG Xiaoyan1,2, ZHAI Jingtong3, QI Qi1   

  1. 1. Northwest Land and Resource Research Center, Shaanxi Normal University, Xi'an 710119, China
    2. Global Regional and Urban Research Institute, Shaanxi Normal University, Xi'an 710119, China
    3. School of Economics, Jinan University, Guangzhou 510632, China
  • Received:2022-01-18 Revised:2022-11-07 Online:2022-12-25 Published:2022-12-29
  • Contact: WU Wenjie;
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(42071213);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41971194);Major Program of National Social Science Foundation of China(20ZDA037);China Postdoctoral Science Foundation(2022M711325)


Decades of urbanization and economic growth in central, western and coastal regions of China have transformed the increasing flow of return migration across places, which exerted a profound impact on regional development prospects. Thus, elaborating the return motivation of internal migrants is of great theoretical and practical significance. From the perspective of "distance" in geography, this paper introduces two additional non-economic dimensions of distance, namely, cultural and administrative distances, between places of destination and origin into the study on migrants' return-to-hometown intention, and focuses on the effects from cultural, administrative and economic borders on return intention. Our measurement combines dialect, geographical and socio-economic datasets with a theoretical framework of multidimensional distances that influence return migration intention. We conduct an empirical analysis using data from the 2017 China Migrants Dynamic Survey and the method of logistic regression modeling. The results show that multidimensional distances between places of destination and origin exert a significant impact on the return intention of migrants, which is consistent with the theoretical predictions. Economic distance restrains return migration intention, while geographic, administrative, and cultural distances promote the intention of migrants to return. This finding remains robust after accounting for possible measurement errors in explanatory variables. The estimated effects of multidimensional distances on return intention vary with the characteristics of individual migrants and destination cities. In terms of individual heterogeneity, the negative effect of economic distance on return migration intention increases, whereas the positive influence of geographic distance gradually decreases with increases in the age and level of education of migrants. In terms of urban heterogeneity, the promoting effect of administrative distance on return intention tends to decrease, and the improvement of urban economic level decreases the positive effect of geographic distance on return intention with the increase of urban population size. This study strengthens the understanding of the phenomenon of return migration under "human-environment" interactions, and helps to enrich the study of migration in geography.

Key words: return migration, return intention, multidimensional distances, China