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From the Gold Rush of the 1800s to the Dust Bowl migration during the Great Depression to the ongoing Green Rush, the U.S. is a land filled with families who move toward the call of distant opportunities in their pursuit of the American dream.

How Many Families Move Each Year?

There isn’t much data on families, but according to data from the American Community Survey (ACS), more than 40 million Americans moved annually from 2015 to 2020. This is equivalent to about 13 percent of Americans. Moving is a uniquely personal experience. 

However, comparing migration statistics from previous years and decades, Americans are moving much less than they did in the past. The American propensity to migrate would appear to have been replaced by a general stagnation in terms of moving. Researchers have been seeing a downward trend in migration that has been fairly consistent since the late 1940s to 1960s when about one in five Americans moved each year. The latest data from the Census Bureau shows that fewer than 10 percent of Americans moved in a single year from 2018 to 2019.

In particular, it’s important to take note of this decline in mobility in the country’s young adult population (18 to 34 years old), which mostly comprises millennials. Simply put, millennials aren’t moving… for a number of reasons. 

Why Are Families Moving Less Than They Did in the Past?

Historically, young adults, being the most mobile class of Americans, drive overall migration trends. So, if millennials are staying put, it’s no wonder mobility and migration figures are going down. However, millennials don’t think they have any choice but to stay “stuck in place”. Their mobility has been deeply affected by higher housing costs, unaffordable rent and underemployment.

But, don’t blame it all on millennials! Americans, in general, are moving less due to three factors: housing affordability, change in demographic, and work-related changes. Families are discouraged from moving by expensive home ownership. The rise of dual-earner households have also dampened a family’s desire to move. Plus, more and more employers are gradually accepting remote work, work-from-home and freelance work setups that became the norm during the pandemic. 

Then there’s the psychological costs of moving.

According to a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Americans can be grouped into three mobility classes: “the mobile”, “the stuck”, and “the rooted”. 

  • “The mobile” (47 percent) possess the education and the capability, as well as the inclination to move, and so they do.
  • “The stuck” (15 percent) have less formal education than “the mobile”, are in worse health and lack the resources or ability to move. They are also hindered by the high costs of moving, unaffordable housing prices, difficulty in getting a new mortgage, and the belief that there’s less opportunity waiting for them elsewhere.
  • “The rooted” are similar to “the mobile” in that they have the resources to move. However, “the rooted” prefer to stay because they want to be close to family and friends, and they want to continue their involvement in their local community or church.

On average, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York study found that respondents would sacrifice more than 100 percent of their income rather than move to another location. The psychological cost of leaving family and friends alone is equal to 30 percent of income, which they aren’t willing to pay. The research found that nearly half of respondents are rooted in their communities and prefer to stay where they are.

How Has the COVID-19 Pandemic Affected How Often Families Move?

According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in early June 2020, “millions of Americans relocated this year because of the COVID-19 outbreak”. One in five U.S. adults (22 percent) either moved or know someone who did, and 10 percent of young adults (18 to 29 years old) said someone moved into their household due to coronavirus-related reasons.

Overall, 37 percent of young adults said they moved, someone moved into their home or know someone who moved because of the coronavirus outbreak. Those who moved cited the following reasons for their decision: 

  • They wanted to reduce their risk of contracting the virus (28 percent), 
  • Their college campus closed (23 percent), 
  • They wanted to be with family (20 percent), 
  • They lost their job (8 percent), or 
  • Other financial reasons (10 percent)

For Families Who Do Move… 

What is the Most Common Type of Move?

According to the Current Population Survey (CPS), most moves are local. In 2019, within-county moves accounted for 65 percent of all moves, 17 percent for moves between counties in the same state, 14 percent for moves across state lines and 4 percent for moves from outside the country.

What Are the Reasons Families Move?

The same survey identified three reasons why people move: 

  • Housing-related (40 percent), 
  • Family-related (27 percent), 
  • Job-related (21 percent), and 
  • Other reasons (12 percent). 

However, while housing-related reasons motivate local moves, job-related reasons encourage people to move long distances, except for older people who make the long-distance move for family-related reasons.

Where Do Families Move?

According to Riordan Frost, research analyst at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, interstate migrants are moving to the Sunbelt states, with more than 10,000 people per year since 2010, on average, flocking to Florida and Texas. 

Americans are also drawn to Colorado and other states in the Pacific Northwest and other western states. 

Many people move to the Midwest and Northeast as well, but many more move out of these regions annually. While this results in negative net flows of domestic migration, it doesn’t necessarily mean population loss for these places.

In Conclusion

Despite the declining trend in migration in the U.S., Americans are still considered to be more mobile than most Europeans. A Gallup study, which characterizes the U.S. as one of the most geographically mobile countries in the world, cements America as a land of migrants. The report states that “about one in four U.S. adults (24 percent) reported moving within the country in the past five years.” Although this is comparable to Finland (23 percent) and Norway (22 percent), in general, Gallup’s research found that Americans move considerably more than Europeans. 

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