Modelling population flows using spatial interaction models


Background   Spatial Interaction Models have been used for decades to explain and predict flows (of migrants, capital, traffic, trade etc.) between geographic locations.
Aims   This paper will guide users through the process of fitting and calibrating spatial interaction models in order to understand, explain and predict internal migration flows in Australia.
Data and methods   Internal migration data from the Australian 2011 Census of Population and Housing, which records people who have moved between Greater Capital City Statistical Areas over 5-year periods, is used to exemplify the modelling process. The R statistical software is used to process and visualise the data as well as run the models.
Results   The full suite of Wilson’s family of spatial interaction models is fitted to the internal migration data, revealing that distance and origin/destination populations are some of the most important influencing factors affecting internal migration flows. We see whether constraining the model to known flows about origins and/or destinations will improve the fits and model estimates.
Conclusions   Spatial interaction modelling has been a tool in the box of some population geographers for a number of decades. However, recent advances in more forgiving programming languages such as R and Python now mean that this powerful modelling methodology is no longer only available to those who also possess advanced computer programming skills. This guide has exemplified the process of fitting and calibrating spatial interaction models on Australian internal migration data, but the methods could easily be applied to other flow data sets in other contexts.


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How to Cite
Dennett, A. (2018). Modelling population flows using spatial interaction models. Australian Population Studies, 2(2), 33-58. Retrieved from
Introductory Guides