Report

Who Moves? Who Stays Put? Where's Home?

  • December 18, 2008
  • By D'Vera Cohn and Rich Morin

As a nation, the United States is often portrayed as restless and rootless. Census data, though, indicate that Americans are settling down. Only 13% of Americans changed residences between 2006 and 2007, the smallest share since the government began tracking this trend in the late 1940s.

A new Pew Social & Demographic Trends survey finds that most Americans have moved to a new community at least once in their lives, although a notable number -- nearly four-in-ten -- have never left the place in which they were born.1 Asked why they live where they do, movers most often cite the pull of economic opportunity. Stayers most often cite the tug of family and connections.

Both the survey and Census data indicate that the biggest differences in the characteristics of movers and stayers revolve around geography and education.

In the Midwest, nearly half of adult residents say they have spent their entire lives in their hometown. That compares with fewer than a third of those who live in Western states. Cities, suburbs and small towns have more movers than stayers, while rural areas are more evenly split.

Three-quarters of college graduates have moved at least once, compared with just over half of Americans with no more than a high school diploma. College graduates also move longer distances -- and move more often -- than Americans with a high school diploma or less, and employment plays a greater role in their decisions about where to live. By income group, the most affluent Americans are the most likely to have moved.

The Census Bureau's Current Population Survey indicates that the number of people who moved between 2006 and 2007, 38.6 million, was the lowest since 1982-83. That earlier period included part of a 16-month recession that ended in November 1982. The annual migration rate, which held at 20% through the mid-1960s, has drifted downward since then before hitting its low last year, with the recent housing market slowdown perhaps playing a part.

Analysts say migration has declined because the U.S. population is getting older and most moves are made when people are young. Another brake on moving is the rise of two-career couples, because it is more difficult to coordinate a relocation when two jobs are involved.

The Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends survey of 2,260 adults, which was conducted Oct. 3-19, 2008, asked respondents why they have stayed in their hometowns or have moved to their current community. This report combines the survey findings with Census Bureau data on migration patterns between states and regions.

Read the full report Who Moves? Who Stays Put? Where's Home? on the Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends project Web site.

The report is accompanied by a series of interactive maps that display regional and state migration totals and trends, based on Census Bureau data.