Young Adult Migration Slows Down Sharply


Migration rates, the share of population that moved within the country, have continued their downward trend over the past three decades. Between 1984 and 1985, about 20 percent of Americans moved to a different residence. However, migration rates have fallen nearly by half in recent years, reaching their lowest level of 11% in 2014-2015.


Migration rates across both short distances and long distances have experienced substantial slowdowns over the past 30 years. Short-distance migration rates, moving within the same county, dropped to 7.6% in 2014-2015, the lowest level since 1984. Compared to short-distance migration, the recent slowdown in long-distance migration, moving across counties or states, is more drastic. The rate at which people moved to a different county within the same state declined to 2.1% in 2014-2015, compared to 3.5% in 1984-1985. Interstate migration was at a lower rate of 1.6% in 2014-2015, far less than the rate in the late 1980s, when around 4% of population moved to a different state annually.


Why did migration in America slow considerably? Popular explanations for this long-run decline are the aging of the population, an increase in the number of two-career households, and rising homeownership rates. The current modest economic recovery and unstable labor markets undoubtedly contributed to slowing migration in recent years


Among those most severely affected are young adults ages 20-34, the most mobile age group. The migration rates for young adults drop as they age into their late thirties, when they normally complete their education, get a job, get married and buy a home. Since 2000, young adults registered the steepest declines in the migration rates among all age groups. Between 1999 and 2000, 35% of young adults between the ages of 20 and 24 and 27% of those ages 25-34 changed their residences. By 2014-2015, however, those rates decreased to 23% and 20%, respectively. Young adults, deeply affected by the Great Recession, may have changed their migration behavior because of the weakened job market and delays in household formation.

Moreover, the connection between mobility and homeownership is notable because it illustrates both cause and effect. Homeownership is often associated with reduced population mobility. Indeed, many of the positive social and individual benefits that accrue from homeownership are due to households settling and establishing roots in communities. But recent weakness in homeownership among younger households may in fact be caused by the reduced mobility of young people, which hinders efficient operation of local labor markets and can complicate the ladder of housing demand.


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