Most Americans never move far from their hometown. It says a lot about changing norms around money, work, marriage, and kids.
most americans never move far from their hometown. it says

Most Americans never move far from their hometown. It says a lot about changing norms around money, work, marriage, and kids.

adult child moving home

  • In 2021, Americans moved at the lowest rate since at least 1948 — and 80% live 100 miles or less from where they grew up.
  • An aging population, declining marriage rates, and high housing costs are among the factors driving this trend.
  • The inability to move can have economic consequences.

In 2020, it may have felt like everyone fled cities for rural and suburban locales. But in reality, Americans were — and are — largely staying in place, perhaps more so than ever before.

In 2021, 8.4% of Americans lived in a different residence than they did a year ago, per the Census Bureau’s annual Current Population survey. This was not only a decline from 9.8% in 2019 and 9.3% in 2020, but the lowest “mover rate” since at least 1948 — the earliest data period measured. Back then, the mover rate was roughly 20%, and it’s been on a steady decline since the 1980’s.

In addition to moving less often, Americans are staying closer to home.

Roughly 60% of young adults live within 10 miles of where they grew up, and 80% live within 100 miles, according to a July study conducted by researchers at the US Census Bureau and Harvard University. Even when people moved during the pandemic, many stayed close. The number of moves from one county to another has fallen from nearly 14 million in 2006 to roughly 12 million in 2017 and 11 million in 2020.

“Millennials living in New York City do not make up the world,” Thomas Cooke, a demographic consultant in Connecticut, told the Associated Press last November, regarding the low moving rate during the depths of the pandemic. “My millennial daughter’s friends living in Williamsburg, dozens of them came home. It felt like the world had suddenly moved, but in reality, this is not surprising at all.”

While there may be ‘no place like home,’ this isn’t a development entirely worth celebrating. A myriad of demographic and economic factors — including an aging population, declining marriage and fertility rates, the rise of dual-income households, and spiking housing and childcare costs — are working to keep Americans right where they are, and in some cases, preventing them from improving their financial standings.

Changing ideas of family and work

Arguably the biggest reason Americans are moving less these days is that the US population is aging, and older people tend to move less. But there’s more going on than that.

“The decline in migration is really widespread,” Abigail Wozniak, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, told the New York Times in 2019. “It applies to all demographic groups — younger and older workers, renters and homeowners, more-educated and less-educated workers.”

Another factor is that Americans are having fewer kids, giving them less reason to move to a larger home.

In 2021, the US fertility rate remained near the record-low 2020 figure since the data became available in the 1930’s. Several factors have been posed as explanations for this, including more accessibility to contraception, the growth of women in the workforce, the high cost of raising children, and even the climate crisis.

In addition to having fewer kids, Americans are also getting married less — another factor contributing to smaller households and less need to move to a home with more space. In 1949, nearly 80% of all households were comprised of married couples. As of 2020, the rate had fallen to roughly 50%.

Even when a household does have a married couple and does have children and can find a home, moving can be difficult. In the 1960’s only about 30% of married households were dual-income — with both members working. It’s over 50% today, driven by women not only wanting to enter the workforce, but needing to to support their families. But when a household relies on two incomes, moving to a new area requires both people to look for and find new jobs — a prospect that can be daunting and ultimately deter people from moving at all.

And even when today’s smaller households have found new jobs, finding a home that fits their family’s size can prove challenging. In some areas, there’s not enough modest-sized homes to meet the demand of today’s modest-sized families — who have less desire for the larger properties on the market. Ultimately, these factors have all contributed to Americans moving less.

Moving has gotten more expensive

There’s more than just demographic changes driving the decline in moving, however. It comes down to money.

Over the last few years, rising housing costs across the US have made moving feel impossible for some Americans. Home and rent costs are near record highs, driven by the US’ ongoing housing shortage that has been exacerbated not only by construction slowdowns during the pandemic, but the after effects of the housing market’s crash during the Great Recession. With home and rental vacancy rates — the percent of units available for occupancy — near record lows, the lack of supply has resulted in soaring prices. For Americans that have locked in a mortgage payment or would face a smaller rent hike by simply renewing their lease, many have opted to stay put.

!function(){“use strict”;window.addEventListener(“message”,(function(e){if(void 0!==e.data[“datawrapper-height”]){var t=document.querySelectorAll(“iframe”);for(var a in e.data[“datawrapper-height”])for(var r=0;rAdditionally, rising childcare costs have encouraged families to live close to family — where they’ll have better luck finding affordable babysitters. The cost of childcare in the US rose 41% during the pandemic, with the average annual cost at $10,000 per year. A Care.com poll of over 3,000 parents found a majority of parents spend over 20% of their income on childcare.

Many Americans are not only sticking close to family — but living with their family. The decline in the US mover rate has coincided with a spike in multigenerational households — households with two or more adult generations. Nearly 60 million Americans live in these households, a number that’s quadrupled over the last five decades.

While some Americans have stayed close to home because they need the support of their families, it’s the opposite in some cases — their families need them. Nearly one-in-three adults aged 40 to 64 support a parent financially, according to a 2020 AARP survey. As the US population ages, many elderly will require more than financial support from their children, particularly as long-term care costs remain steep — over $60,000 annually for a home health aide and over $100,000 for a private room in a nursing home.

Given the economic hurdles at play, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that higher-income people tend to move more — and farther.

The benefits of moving

To be sure, many Americans are thrilled to be living near their families and where they grew up. They’ve built strong connections with their communities that they wouldn’t trade for the world.

A nearly 80-year-long Harvard study released in 2017 found that the quality of a person’s relationships were the best predictor of their life satisfaction, and for many Americans, their close proximity to their families is what allows their important connections to flourish.

But being stuck in place can have economic consequences. As detailed in their new book, economists Ran Abramitzky and Leah Boustan found that on average, the children of Americans who moved to areas with strong job growth improved their economic standing more than their neighbors who stayed in place.

That said, for those that do aspire to pack their bags for another part of the country — whether it be for economic opportunity or simply to experience a new way of life — the aforementioned hurdles can be crippling. The rise of remote work — which has provided many workers more geographic flexibility — could encourage some Americans to move in the coming years, but plenty will remain stuck in place — whether they like it or not.

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