Can anything stop the migration towards megacities?

In 2020, about 3.5 million Russians relocated from one region to another.

Although internal migration is now at its lowest ​​in the last 10 years for a number of reasons, including the COVID-19 pandemic, people can hardly be expected to entirely stop moving around the country. At present, internal migration in Russia is closely linked with continuing urbanization.

Urbanization refers to the spread of the urban way of life, with cities taking up more space and their number growing higher. This process is global in nature; urbanization is closely related to the development of industrial enterprises, new means of transport and communications.

As of 2020, 52.6% of the world’s population lived in cities; in 2050, according to UN forecasts, that proportion will be close to 68.6%.

The level of urbanization has risen significantly in Russia over the past 125 years: according to the 1897 census, about 15% of the country’s population lived in cities, whereas in 2020, their number reached 75%.

Russia’s largest city in terms of population is Moscow. According to official data, its population is about 13 million people. It should be noted that Moscow is also the center of an extended urban area that includes a number of towns merging with its suburbs and closely linked with the central city by economic, infrastructural and cultural ties. Typically, Moscow conurbation refers to Moscow, the Moscow Region as well as a number of districts in the Kaluga, Tver, Tula, and other regions that border on the Moscow Region. This puts its total population at some 20 million people.

The term megacity is quite controversial in the modern social sciences and humanities. In Russia, we tend to refer to any place with a population exceeding 1 million as a ‘mega’ city. In addition to Moscow and St. Petersburg, the following Russian cities fall into this category: Novosibirsk (1,620,000), Yekaterinburg (1,495,000), Kazan (1,257,000), Nizhny Novgorod (1,244,000), Chelyabinsk (1,187,000), Samara (1,144,000), Omsk (1,139,000), Rostov-on-Don (1,137,000), Ufa (1,125,000), Krasnoyarsk (1,092,000), Voronezh (1,050,000), Perm (1,049,000), and Volgograd (1,004,000).

Why do people move to megacities? Mostly, to study and work. Any of the above cities is a major industrial, financial, cultural and research center that provides better opportunities for social and personal growth. In a large city, it is easier to find a job or take a training or retraining course in a field one considers important and promising for personal or professional development. With enough money, one can use high-level medical, recreational, cultural and other services, something that residents of the Russian provinces and rural areas have limited access to. Life in a metropolis is always more dynamic and exciting.

As of 2020, the average monthly wage in Moscow was about RUR 105,000 ($1,486) and in St. Petersburg, RUR 66,500 ($940), whereas the average income across Russia was about RUR 51,000 ($722).

It should be noted that people do not move to big cities for good: some choose to live there for several months every year working on a rotational basis, others move temporarily until they solve their financial problems; still others live there until retirement.

Will the flow of migration towards Russian megacities dry up in the near future? It is unlikely. As long as there are imbalances in the main spheres of the Russian economy, and significant differences in incomes and the quality of life between various Russian regions, people will continue moving to large cities.

However, there is something else to consider here. The most developed countries, socioeconomically and politically, have now reached a stage where they are transitioning from an industrial type of society to an informational or post-industrial one. Human workers are being replaced by robots and automatic machines in industrial production. Various forms of teleworking are becoming increasingly common. Ideas about harmonizing relations with the environment, greening all spheres of society, and returning to the “bosom” of nature (meaning small places and rural areas) have become popular and widely promoted.

If this trend spreads to our country, migration flows might reverse, and residents of megacities will start returning back home. For now, however, the Russian authorities are facing a more urgent challenge of stopping the depopulation of Siberia and the Far East.

By Timofei Bashlykov, PhD (Sociology), Associate Professor, Lipetsk branch of the Russian Government’s Financial University

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