Americans are Moving Less Than Before, but Why?

Americans are Moving Less Than Before, but Why?

Moving Less

I’ve been reading a lot in the last few months about trends in the mobility of Americans. My job is closely tied to these trends. Much of the research points to a dramatic decrease in American mobility, suggesting that we are less-willing to relocate than we once were. David Brooks of the NY Times notes that in 1950, 20% of all Americans moved in a given year. Now it’s only 12%. We stay in the same house longer too. An average American in 1950 would stay in one house for 5 years, compared to 8.6 years now.

Another NY Times reporter, Annie Lowery, cites Census Bureau Data from 2013 that suggests that the number of people that moved across state lines in 2012 was half what it was 15 years earlier. The American Moving & Storage Association (Bekins Northwest is a long-time member) shows a similar decline in their quarterly investigations. And Greg Kaplan of Princeton University suggests that the downward moving trend has remained constant despite up and down fluctuations in the housing market.

So why the slowdown in moving? It is a perplexing question that researchers are trying to answer with correlations. Here are some concurrent trends that could help to explain why:

Blame the internet

Most of us surf the internet more now than ever. With this increased access to information, we know more about the grass, and its greenness, on the other side of the fence. So researchers suggest that the internet better-enables would-be movers to discover the good AND bad of a new location. Perhaps the internet is proving that the grass is not always greener. It may have been easier to see a place’s strengths and overlook its weaknesses before the internet.

We’re older

America is aging. And older folks tend to move less than their younger counterparts. Even so, David Brooks points out that younger people move more, but their mobility has decreased too. So it appears that there is more at play.

Home ownership is less lucrative

It used to be much easier to sell your house, and there was usually money to spare after the sale. Even though the real estate market has seen a rebound in recent years, homeowners may still be underwater with no equity or negative equity. So it is less likely that a homeowner is willing to take the risk that comes with moving to a new location. And there is less money to hedge their bets.

Labor markets have less variety

Almost every city has seen a shift to more jobs in the service industry. I remember hearing about this trend way back when I was in high school. Greg Kaplan (mentioned above) and Sam Schulhofer-Wohl of the Federal Reserve Bank suggest that this shift creates homogeneity in job variety and wages from place to place. In the past a worker may have left one town for a more desirable job description or more money in another locality. But now that difference is diminished due to similar wages and job descriptions.

Lack of self-confidence

Moving used to mean that you have faith in your ability to change your future by going through temporary displeasure and coming out a better person on the other side. It still can and does mean that to some. But more and more people feel like the risk of pulling up stakes and relocating is not worth the reward. David Brooks points out that highly educated people still possess this faith. That group’s relocation numbers have remained strong. But those with less education have seen this self-faith wane in recent years.

Another widely-used indicator of confidence, fertility rate, is also down in the US.

Lack of national confidence

Is the US the greatest nation on earth? It depends on who you ask. Half of all Americans over the age of 65 believe that the US is the greatest. If you ask the same question of the 18 to 29 group in the US, only 27% will say yes. Confidence in the US appears to be waning as our nation ages. This could cause a younger person to pause before making the leap and moving across the country.

What does it all mean?

I’m not sure. But the phenomenon is an interesting one. Opinions on why are obviously varied, but there is little dispute that the trend exists. Our company has expanded during this trend and we have continued to grow while other moving companies have atrophied or closed. So we have been pretty sheltered from the general trend that has proved devastating for some movers. In any event, there are still a large number of people in need of moving services. And Bekins Northwest is ready to help out when you take the leap of faith and decide to relocate your home.

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