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December 05, 2005

Movers and Stayers

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Back in the 1970s fellow-demographer Peter Morrison wrote a paper that floated the idea that there were what he termed "chronic movers."

A simple "push-pull" explanation of migration holds that areas with weak economies don't attract many in-migrants while at the same time exporting out-migrants at heightened rates of flow. And the reverse would be expected for attractive, growing areas -- lots of migrants being pulled in, not many being pushed out.

If I recall Pete correctly, the latter condition wasn't always the case. He found instances of areas with growing economies and high in-migration that also exhibited higher than average out-migration rates -- one case being Santa Clara County, California (San Jose).

His notion was that some people are more predisposed to migrate than others. A growing area, like San Jose was in the 60s, attracts a lot of migrants including plenty with the predisposition. This results in a population with an above-average share of migration-happy people, and further results in high out-migration rates thanks to such folks moving out because, well, because that's what they do.

This struck an anecdotal chord with me.

Eons ago when I was stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland I dated a nursing student who lived up the pike in Baltimore. Whatever prospects our relationship had were abruptly cut short when I got orders transferring me to Korea. But the deal probably would have flopped in any event because she was perfectly happy in Baltimore and didn't ever want to live very far from her family.

I, on the other hand, had no problem moving away from kith and kin. Between roughly ages 22 and 35, I spent about ten of those 13 years away from the Seattle area where I grew up and presently live. I was especially happy to have spent much of that time within striking distance of New York City, a true Mecca for many of us provincials before the 1970s. Still, I suspect that my mother wasn't so hot for me being away even though she was her usual supportive self.

My sister, after a couple years of college and a couple more in Ithaca, NY, Sweden and Alaska, settled down in Seattle and now lives less than two miles from where she grew up. And her oldest daughter lives a little more than a mile farther.

Living in Washington, a relatively fast-growing state, means I'm surrounded by lots of people who came from someplace else. Plus, I haven't been active in the dating scene since the early 70s. So the subject of willingness to make a significant geographical move doesn't come up often for me any more.

Nevertheless, I suspect that there are still plenty of people who don't like the idea of straying far from their geographical roots. And if Pete was right, they ought to be more concentrated in places not having a large share of "chronic movers". Slow-growing parts of the Plains and Great Lakes areas, perhaps? Maybe economically-stagnant areas such as Upstate New York with remains of the proverbial "big Catholic families?" (My nursing student friend was Catholic.)

Of course I could be wrong about every bit of this. What do you think? Anecdotes are welcome, though anyone has permission to introduce Research to the comments mix too.



posted by Donald at December 5, 2005


Both my wife and I are fourth-generation New Yorkers, an increasingly rare specimen. Many people move into NY, of course, but tend not to stay long and. For those of us born here, we tend to constantly re-evaluate why we are here. For my wife and I, it's easy. Both sets of parents are in the city, and our sisters are within striking distance.


Posted by: Gerald on December 5, 2005 8:32 PM

I don't mind the occasional little trips for vacations out of state, but I would never live anywhere but Texas. While I have lived in several other Texas cities, I have lived the last 27 years in the same town I was born in - Cowtown. However, my husband and I have our hearts set on living down closer to the Big Bend area as soon as we can get there.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on December 5, 2005 9:54 PM

When my son was 10 and was able to walk to school by himself (4 blocks from our Midwood, Brooklyn, he befriended mechanics from the auto-body shop, who had a golden retriever puppy. (He liked the puppy of course, not the mechanics).
One Monday they asked him what was he doing past weekend. -Went to the South Street Seaport, to see the ships.
-But that's in Manhattan! We've never been to Manhattan. How is it there?

True story.

Posted by: Tatyana on December 5, 2005 10:16 PM

It's not at all surprising that fast growing areas like San Jose also have high out-migration rates. The fast growth often translates into rapidly rising house prices, so people in modest-paying jobs who want to own their own houses may have no choice but to leave. Other people just don't like the congestion and traffic that comes with rapid growth.

Posted by: Peter on December 5, 2005 10:24 PM

I lived in Barcelona for about a year, and it was how Gerald describes New York: lots of in-migration but not hemorrhaging natives either, despite the rising house prices, etc. I mostly grew up in, and have now unfortunately returned to, the DC metro area, which is the opposite.

Certainly there are a multitude of factors going into the difference b/w a New York town and a DC town, but one I'd emphasize is the public transit system. My college friends from NYC all validated the stereotype of urbanites who didn't know how to drive and who'd only rarely visited the nearby New England / Mid-Atlantic area, let alone the rest of the country. After all, the subway and train only take you so far. Barcelona also has an excellent metro system as well as an equivalent of the LIRR servicing nearby areas.

Now, DC's metro system is pretty crappy in comparison. And anyway, almost no one lives in the city itself, but rather in the suburbs or exurbs. You *must* own a car and have lots of driving experience to deal w/ the craziness. Striking it out on the open road isn't so frightening for us, so if we had to leave, we wouldn't be afraid and we wouldn't miss the hellish traffic.

Then at the very bottom is a place like Detroit, where the public transit is just a measly "people-mover" that goes in a simple loop. Also, tons of people live in the 'burbs rather than downtown, so they pretty much live their outdoor existence in cars.

Some will point to the fact that NYC, DC, and Detroit are ranked in that order from most to least "cool," but surely the quality of public transit is a decent chunk of a city's "coolness" -- not having to know how to drive, own a car, fume in traffic for two hours every day, etc.

Posted by: Agnostic on December 6, 2005 12:53 AM

I would agree with Peter that much of the outflow is due to higher living costs and have seen such in Connecticut where housing prices, lack of good jobs, forced early retirement and high taxes have seen the loss of many born and bred Connecticuticians. This would apply to many, many over 55-ers. We have also lost the youger generations who have gone away to colleges out of state, and remained where they were schooled after finding it impossible to find jobs and reasonably priced housing in CT so they do not return home. An exaggeration, but I'd guess that over the past couple decades a good quarter of native CTers are in Arizona (corporate moves), Florida (retirement) and wherever else they went to school.

Posted by: susan on December 6, 2005 1:53 AM

Somewhat to my surprise, I turned out to be a rolling stone in my youth--college on the East Coast, a few years back in Detroit, a couple years in NYC, another year in Detroit, three years in L.A., two years in London and two years in D.C. Then I moved back to L.A. and have been stuck fast for almost twenty years. A combination of being married to a girl who is quite close to her folks, having kids and owning my own business has super-glued me in place.

It's odd how my life has contradicted the genetic evidence of Luca Cavalli-Sforza. The good professor's data suggests that for most of human history, men have tended to stick to the locality and class into which they were born, living lives very similar to their fathers, while women have been the ones who showed much greater geographic and social mobility.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 6, 2005 4:47 AM

I'll contribute for the sake of introducing the experience of people quite unlike this demographic as it seems. I'm in a village of 350 people at the edge of a reservation. The reservation is bulging at the seams because people do NOT want to leave -- not because they don't want to leave their mother, but because they don't feel themselves when they're not here. Also, the birth rate is quite high. The village is dwindling because of economics and demographics, getting older and fewer all the time.

My life has been split: living in Portland (where I grew up) to make money so I can come back here and live on nothing. Now I'm retired, living on a pittance, and can get by here on what would amount to rent in Portland or another city. At last the split is resolved.

Wealthy people (billionaires) are buying estates here (they have to build the house, of course) which they only occupy a few months out of the year. The rest of the time the property is patrolled to keep others out. They buy almost nothing locally but enjoy intruding into local politics. A recent study showed that they keep the place an average of 7 years before they get bored and sell out, but this is not a trend that has lasted long enough to tell what happens next.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on December 6, 2005 6:49 AM

Susan -
I'm a native of Connecticut as well, having relocated to Long Island eight years ago (because of marriage), and you are definitely onto something with respect to higher education. Connecticut is similar to New York and to the other New England states in that higher education is largely viewed as a private rather than public function. As a result, these states have mediocre, low-profile public colleges and universities even while being full of excellent private institutions. While that may have worked fine in the past, it's less appropriate today because the costs of those private colleges are totally hyper-inflated. What happens, as an almost unavoidable result, is that many families whose children are approaching college age have no choice but to move to other states, where their children will have the chance to attend quality, well-known state universities at reasonable cost.

Posted by: Peter on December 6, 2005 9:40 AM

Undiagnosed ADD.
From the small Asian tribes to Eric and his band of Vikings to Columbus to Hudson to the "Go West Young Man (& Ladies)" days, wanderlust, adventure, search for elbow-space all were used to give reasons to the constant American moving around.
Nah... If there wwas Ritalin or Concerta to prescribe at the time, all that ADD behaviour would have been held in check and we all would have been living in some incredibly huge city in central Africa.
Thank goodness for our quirks and peculilarities.

Posted by: DarkoV on December 6, 2005 1:11 PM

Oh, I am so a chronic mover!

From 1994 to 2004, I lived in Albuquerque, Chicago, Palo Alto, Chicago (again) and Boston. I'm exhausted :)

Posted by: MD on December 6, 2005 6:55 PM

Oh, and if I manage to move again, I'm going somewhere smaller, mid-western or southern, with cheap housing and lots of room for lots of craptastic house gadgets and electronis that I'll buy with all the money left over from the cheap housing. I don't care if you judge me. That's just what I'm doing.

*Elegant city life in a cramped apartment with heavy use of public transport is all fine and good, but as my Indian father always says: (paraphrasing), "why'd I come here if I can't have lots of new stuff?"

Posted by: MD on December 6, 2005 6:59 PM

You know, I do preview my comments and I still make tons of spelling mistakes. I'm afraid I may be slightly stupid....

Posted by: MD on December 6, 2005 7:02 PM

Pattie -- Big Bend? You sound like one of those folks who gets twitchy at the sight of smoke in the distance from the nearest neighbor's chimney.

Tatyana -- Never been to Manhattan? They've never heard of the R Train? Are you sure they weren't kidding you?

Peter -- The San Jose instance was back in the 60s and housing prices might or might not have been comparable to today's situation.

Agnostic -- Not knowing how to drive might be a real brake on potential out-migration from NYC. I'm not sure about the rapid-transit/coolness comparison, though. Seattle is generally deemed cool and only now is starting to build an overpriced, not-so-useful light rail system. And as for being stuck in traffic, I promise really hard to try not mentioning the Long Island Expressway.

Susan -- Interesting point about colleges, though the situation was even more exaggerated back in, say, 1960 before Rockefeller threw money into the SUNY system and before Rutgers was take over by the state of NJ, etc.

Friedrich -- You've lived in lots of places (not necessarily Detroit) that are, on paper, interesting. Why not whip up a post on this?

Darko -- Heh.

MD -- Sounds reasonable to me, especially your dad.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on December 6, 2005 8:59 PM

Donald, they were serious, even got into that offended Italian-Brooklynite tone when he suggested they hop on the train and get to see the ships themselves one day. "Ships, pfe! What is it there to see in Manhattan I couldn't give a damn about in Brooklyn!"

Freidrich: I am a living proof of L. Cavalli-Sforza theory: never was particularly tied to where the rest of my family lives. On the other hand, it's probably my father's genes (a contradiction to the LCS' theory), who has always been a very easy-to-up-and-go person.

Since he was able to decide for himself (and later for us) he moved from a city on Azov Sea to Tashkent (he was 21 and just married), than to various places in Kazakhstan, than back to Ukraine, than to Moscow, than to Tataria - all complicated by Soviet system of propiska. Than to Detroit, than to Kalamazoo, than to Georgia and who knows now where else when he's close to retirement.

Posted by: Tatyana on December 6, 2005 9:30 PM

I'm a stayer. Except for the 4 years we lived in a college town about 3 hours north of where we are now, I've lived all my life withing 20 miles of the town I was raised in.

I like knowing my pharmacist, my librarian, my mail carrier, my banker etc all on a first name basis. I like knowing the grocery store and what aisle has what on it. It's about being home and having a place that I know and am familiar with. We've been eating breakfast out at the same restaurant for years and they know us there by name. I know all my kids teachers, thier families and what their spouses do for a living. I know the guy who changes the oil in my car--he makes hay for a neighbor in the summer and plows snow for the county in the winter.

There all sorts of little interconnections that you develop when you live in one spot for years. It's something we aren't willing to give up for a better job, a grander lifestyle or the excitement of moving around.

Posted by: Deb on December 7, 2005 7:58 AM

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