Analyzing the ‘Stayers’

Popular wisdom says Americans are always moving from place to place. However true this has ever been, it obscures a significant fact: Many Americans live their whole lives in one community. A Pew Research Center Social & Demographic Trends Report examines this often-overlooked population.

Polling for the study, fielded in October, found 37 percent of adults saying they’ve always lived in their hometown (though not necessarily in the same house), aside from college or military duty. In the Midwest, 46 percent said so, vs. 38 percent in the East, 36 percent in the South and 30 percent in the West. Twenty-three percent of college graduates are “stayers,” vs. 43 percent of those with a high school diploma or less. Forty percent of men and 35 percent of women are stayers.

One part of the survey asked stayers to cite “major reasons” why they’ve remained in their hometown. Atop the list was “family ties” (mentioned by 74 percent), followed by “grew up there” (69 percent), “good place to raise kids” (59 percent), “I belong there” (58 percent), “connections to friends” (49 percent), “job or business” (40 percent) and “no desire to live someplace else” (35 percent).

The emphasis on family ties is consistent with the fact that stayers have a median of eight extended-family members within an hour’s drive, while “movers” have three. Female stayers are even more likely than their male counterparts to cite family ties as a big reason for staying put (79 percent vs. 69 percent). The women are also more apt than the men to say they have stayed because “I belong there” (63 percent vs. 53 percent). An above-average proportion of college-educated stayers (60 percent) said ties to friends are a major reason for sticking around.

Movers often trade family ties for economic opportunity; stayers do the reverse. Atop the income standings, moving has paid off for those who did it for such reasons, as “the most affluent Americans are the most likely to have moved.” But looking at the two groups as a whole, one finds relatively modest disparities in earnings. Stayers have a slightly above-average propensity to be in the lowest income bracket (comprising 38 percent of the under-$30,000 cohort) and are slightly under-represented in the study’s top bracket (accounting for 34 percent of the $75,000-plus group).