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This paper studies the evolution of internal and international migration in Italy over the mid-nineteenth to the late-twentieth centuries. Notwithstanding Italy’s large international emigration flows, most Italian migration has been inter-regional, with rural-rural, rural-urban and urban-urban migration systems expanding in geographical scope and complexity over time. This paper analyses the interplay between internal and international migration, revealing four distinct patterns of (i) regions where internal migration always dominated and that turned into the destinations of internal migrants in the early-nineteenth century; (ii) regions that were initially characterised by strong international emigration before evolving into important destinations for internal migrants, (iii) regions that transitioned gradually from sources of to destinations for international and internal migrants and (iv) regions that largely remained sources of international and internal migration. Overall, these patterns reflect Italy’s social transformation from a feudal system in agricultural production to a modern welfare state with an industrial economy, a transformation which affected regions in strikingly different ways. More specifically, these ways are linked to state (re)formation, urbanisation, the rise of agricultural and industrial capitalism and the peripherisation of the South. These profound transformative processes altered the social structure and people’s livelihoods, engendering new opportunities in some regions and greater uncertainty in others. Rather than poverty, it was the combination of these transformative processes that encouraged many Italians to pursue migration. Because the social transformation unfolded unevenly across the Italian peninsula, it engendered inequalities and the (re)framing of central and more peripheral areas, which explains the different internal and international migration patterns.



Working paper


International Migration Institute

Publication Date





1 - 38


internal migration, international migration, social transformation, inequality, hope, Italy