The impact of migration background, ethnicity and social network dispersion on air and car travel in the UK

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

April 15, 2022


While there is a saturation of car mileage per head in developed countries, international air travel has grown rapidly until 2020, making it crucial to better understand its drivers. An often-overlooked factor here is migration. Previous research suggests that individuals with migration background and/or from ethnic minorities tend to have more environmentally sustainable everyday travel patterns, due to lower car use. Yet there is evidence suggesting that their air travel-related emissions are higher than average, possibly due to visits to the home country and the trips required to maintain spatially distant social ties. However, migration background and social network attributes are typically not included in quantitative studies of air travel. In this paper, we analyse data from the 2011–2013 UKHLS survey, which provides information on annual car mileage and frequency of air travel for private purposes, allowing us to derive rough estimates of greenhouse gas emissions. We estimate regression models for these outcomes, including migration background, ethnicity, and social network predictors. We find that: i) first-generation migration background is associated with lower car mileage, but higher levels of air travel; ii) this effect is less pronounced or absent for less recently-arrived migrants and second- and third-generation migrants; iii) spatially dispersed social networks are positively associated with both air and car travel; iv) the association between migration background and air travel is partly accounted for by social network dispersion. We conclude by discussing implications for future research and air travel demand management policies.

Published in

Travel Behaviour and Society

Volume and page numbers

Volume: 27 , p.65 -78






Not held in Hilary Doughty Research Library - bibliographic reference only



Latest findings, new research

Publications search

Search all research by subject and author


Researchers discuss their findings and what they mean for society


Background and context, methods and data, aims and outputs


Conferences, seminars and workshops

Survey methodology

Specialist research, practice and study

Taking the long view

ISER's annual report


Key research themes and areas of interest