Away from the cities? A medium-to-long-term investigation of how Covid-19 pandemic has changed population spatial patterns in Italy


  • Laura Silva Paris School of Economics
  • Franco Bonomi Bezzo
  • Fabio Manfredini
  • Viviana Giavarini
  • Carmelo Di Rosa


urban exodus, Covid-19, inner areas, Italy




The global emergence of COVID-19 has triggered an unprecedented global health emergency, compelling nations to implement drastic measures to curb the virus's spread. These measures often took the shape of non-pharmaceutical interventions, prominently enforced through extensive lockdowns in Italy, marking the first instance of such widespread restrictions on this scale. These actions effectively halted societies worldwide, affecting every facet of social and economic life.

One notable consequence was a speculated shift in internal migration patterns, with reports suggesting a rural revival driven by an exodus from large cities, influenced by preferences for low population density, open spaces, and remote work opportunities. Research on this phenomenon has primarily focused on the early stages of the pandemic, leaving a gap in understanding its long-term effects. Italy, with its significant portion of inner and rural areas, becomes a critical setting for examining evolving urban-rural population trends.

This study addresses this gap by employing a comprehensive approach, combining Facebook/Meta presence data, administrative registry data, and housing market data to analyze short and long-term migration trajectories.

This papers contributes by offering a nuanced perspective on whether the observed changes in migration patterns during the first phases of the pandemics were temporary or indicative of a more enduring trend. 

The study finds that the pandemic initiated new residential dynamics persisting beyond its initial stages. Four indicators, including active Facebook users, average rent prices, housing market transactions, and changes in official residency, reveal complex patterns in residential dynamics. Despite an initial trend of people discovering the value of staying and living away from urban centers during the pandemic, a preference for sub-urban rather than extremely rural, areas emerges in permanent relocations.

Contrary to the popular narrative of an urban exodus, the analysis does not provide evidence of massive migration from cities to the countryside, aligning with findings in other countries. The pandemic's impact on remote work flexibility, affordability of housing, access to nature, and the desire for larger spaces may have influenced preferences for areas outside main urban poles. Housing market transactions indicate a pattern of increased interest in buying outside urban centers, potentially as an "exit strategy" rather than a full relocation.

The study has several limitations, including challenges in obtaining reliable measures of individuals' actual locations due to factors like second homes and administrative data inaccuracies. Despite these challenges, the use of multiple indicators from different sources enhances the robustness of the findings.

In conclusion, this work provides a comprehensive assessment of the medium to long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on population dynamics and residential trajectories in Italy. It challenges the narrative of a rural revival or urban exodus, emphasizing the complexity of factors influencing migration patterns.