It’s as American as apple pie. Growing up in a small town is wonderful, but if you want to really make something of yourself, you need to the Big City, where professional and social opportunities abound. Those who choose to stay in Smallville are, well, kinda sad, right?
Just ask George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life, who got stuck scrapping out a living at the Bedford Falls Building and Loan while all his high school buddies went on to literal fame and fortune in the great big world.
But this great migration has slowed in recent years. Young Americans just don’t pick up and move for better opportunities as easily as they once did. Just 11.6% of the population relocated between 2010 and 2011, the lowest rate since the 1940s. There are likely several factors behind this change. On the positive side, the rise of the internet has made it possible for more people to work remotely from their hometowns.
On the negative side, researchers speculate that today’s young adults lack the grit to strike out on their own. Having been somewhat coddled as kids and young adults, this generation is uncomfortable being too far from the support of mom and dad.
Researchers also wonder if the increased stridency of our national politics may be encouraging people to stay close to home, where folks share their beliefs.
It also seems possible that in the soft job market of recent years, small town folk weren’t convinced that their prospects would be any better in another city of state. One exception: the 2006-2012 oil boom in the Dakotas, which drew thousands of people from across the country with the promise of high-paying jobs.
Midwesterners are most likely to stay close to home. About 70% of them still live in the state where they were born – half never leave the town where they were born. Westerners are far more mobile with only 30% staying in their hometown. Californians most frequently “vote with their feet” for a better life. No surprise, extroverts, regardless of region, are most likely to move to the city.
Of course, there are many wonderful aspects to small town life. The easier pace and sense of community may be why Big City kids are 21% more likely to suffer anxiety disorders than small town children.
Hey, it turned out pretty well for George Bailey, didn’t it?