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Study Notes

Classifications of population movement

GCSE, AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

An important aspect of population studies is the movement of people from place to place. As there are many different types of movement it can help to classify them. Here, we discuss the 3 classifications of population movement.

Population movements are responsible for the diffusion of culture, perhaps even a basic form of globalisation that doesn’t involve trade or the internet. Migrations of people, particularly if they are large-scale or prolonged, can lead to the extinction of cultures or the transformation of other cultural groups.

Character of movement

  • Unconscious drifts, such as the random, perhaps indeterminate, migration of early man
  • Forced movements, such as the compulsory movement of national groups in the former Soviet Union, or the transportation of slaves across history
  • Voluntary migrations, such as the modern migration between Commonwealth countries

Time span of movement

The time span of population movements can also be classified into long-term and short-term movements, otherwise known as permanent or transient movements:


  • Out-migration to other countries
  • Rural/urban migrations


  • Seasonal migrations
  • Daily movements

Distance travelled

This classification can by split into international and intra-national movement:

International migrations

  • Permanent
  • Semi-permanent

Intra-national and local movements

  • Rural/urban movements
  • Seasonal migrations
  • Daily work movements

The term movement is used to cover all kinds of spatial mobility, from long-distance, permanent migration to the daily commute.

The term migration is better associated with permanent or semi-permanent changes of residence, so be careful which term you use when describing the movement of people!

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