How the pandemic may reverse some patterns of human movement

by Lorenzo Piccoli


Tobias Jones wrote an article on how the pandemic has shaped the Italian society, one year down the road. The text has two important observations for those who like to think of how people move – or don’t.

Return migration

Jones is convinced that the pandemic has encouraged the return of many Italians who used to live abroad. This would be a significant reversal for a country has relatively high emigration rates at about 5% of the population (however, the public debate in Italy is almost entirely focused on immigration, whose rates are at approximately 10% of the population). Many of the Italians abroad may certainly decide (or have already decided) to move back to Italy, but it is too early to say for sure: we do not have reliable numbers yet.

Re-population of remote villages

Jones also writes that the widespread adoption of remote working conditions may help to re-populate the country side. Ironically, I am writing this blogpost from Cavalese, in Val di Fiemme, so I am part of this trend. The Financial Times had a special reporting on the topic; La Repubblica also featured a long think-piece (in Italian). The idea is that alpine villages may adapt to this transformation of labor, attract those individuals who can work remotely, and help them settle as residents.

What we know for sure is that people are moving away from the big cities in big numbers (again, I am part of this trend). Whether they (we) will settle in remote alpine village and reverse long trends of demographic decline, this is a different matter.

I was in Valfloriana a few days ago, where the number of inhabitants went down from 1400 in 1921 to 550 today. The valley is beautiful, small, and remote. I cannot imagine digital nomads and their families settling here. Other areas may have better luck, but these are probably not the places that suffer of a demographic decline. Instead, they are small and mid-size towns: big enough to provide a touch of social life, small enough to keep the masses at bay.

And even this trend may not last for long. When social life can resume, the allure of cities, their bars, cinemas, and theatres will hopefully strike back. In the end, the idea that the pandemic may indirectly help to counter the demographic decline of small villages may be just wishful thinking.