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This paper explores processes of migration to and from Bolsward – a small agro-industrial town in the Dutch province of Friesland – with an emphasis on the post-WWII period. While prewar patterns of in- and out-migration were primarily intra-provincial, after 1945 migration became increasingly inter-provincial and, to some extent, international. Out-migrants from Bolsward were partly replaced by unskilled agricultural labourers from surrounding rural areas who lost their employment through agricultural mechanisation and found work in the growing industrial and construction sectors in town. When that labour supply dried up during the 1960s, this led to the recruitment of Turkish ‘guestworkers’. From the late 1950s, a second type of in- migrant, belonging to a high-skilled, often non-Frisian professional class, migrated to Bolsward to fill positions in local government and education. Four interacting social transformation processes explain these changing migration patterns: (1) industrialisation, (2) agricultural mechanisation, (3) state/educational expansion and (4) a broader change in life aspirations and ideas of the ‘good life’. Because of a process of replacement migration from Bolsward’s rural hinterlands, out-migration did not lead to population decline. Concurrently, new economic and educational opportunities arose that matched the life aspirations of town dwellers and agricultural workers from the hinterlands, giving rise to an increase in ‘voluntary immobility’ from the 1960s onwards. This case study highlights the vital ‘linking’ role that small towns and rural areas play in the hierarchical, multi-layered geographical structure of migration systems. It shows that much out-migration from rural areas is directed not to big cities but, rather, to smaller urban areas located in their direct vicinity and that migration from such rural towns is often directed to medium-sized urban settlements rather than to big cities. The analysis also shows that social transformation does not necessarily lead to large-scale out-migration when local opportunities expand simultaneously.



Working paper


International Migration Institute

Publication Date





1 - 34


migration transition, social transformation, replacement migration, industrialisation, agricultural mechanisation, education, the Netherlands