It’s a common assumption that high housing costs tend to drive low-income families out of city centres and toward suburbs. But research on Switzerland’s six largest cities turns that theory on its head.
The study, commissioned by the Federal Housing Office and carried out by researchers at the University of Geneva, was released Tuesday. It showed that contrary to popular belief, affluent people in Switzerland are much more likely to move out of urban centres toward peripheral municipalities, while low-income households tend to stay in the city proper.
The results were based on the study of the residential mobility of households classified as low-, middle-, and high-income in Zurich, Bern, Basel, Lugano, Lausanne and Geneva between 2010 and 2014. In an effort to understand better the relationships between income and housing decisions, the researchers only examined households inhabited by people of working age, thus excluding retirees.
Overall, people who earned more moved more, the researchers found. Urban centres were generally characterised by net negative migration, with the outbound affluent households partially compensated for by the arrival of lower-income households. Low-income families were found to move only rarely, and when they did, they tended to move very short distances, usually remaining in the same municipality.
The researchers also identified a trend toward greater social segregation in Switzerland, particularly in the French-speaking regions. As high-income households moved out of city centres, they tended to settle in communities with populations of similar social status. On the other hand, when lower-income households left city centres, they gravitated toward less affluent communities.
The Housing Office press statement concluded that, while social segregation remains low in Switzerland, the results show that, “residential mobility is a factor that accentuates territorial inequalities between municipalities”.