Mobility vs. Geography: Percent Born In State of Residence Map (2010)

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I can’t stop posting map infographics! They’re just so pretty. 🙂 Richard Florida of The Atlantic shared the map above, which shows the percentage of residents of each state that were born in that state. He then goes one step further and concludes that this map backs up his theory that America is being divided into two economic classes – the stuck and the mobile:

The mobile possess the resources and the inclination to seek out and move to locations where they pursue economic opportunity. Too many Americans are stuck in places with limited resources and opportunities. This geography of the stuck and mobile is a key axis of cleavage in the United States.

If mobility was once considered to be a quintessentially American attribute, it is now one that only an elite sliver of the population can lay claim to. It is both a significant shift and a sobering one. (source)

He cites the fact that fewer Americans are moving now than before, ostensibly because they are stuck in underwater homes. Still, using this particular map as proof of such a class divide seems like a stretch to me. There are many reasons why someone may or may not end up living in the state they were born. This map is the result of decades of complex interactions, not just what happened the last few years.

Just to throw out some examples, perhaps some states simply created significantly more job openings than could be filled by existing residents (DC Metro area, Alaska, Nevada). Some are retirement havens (Arizona, Florida). Also, I can’t tell if this map excludes residents born outside the US. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants came from around the world to settle in America – they were often both poor and mobile. Immigrants also tended to settle in coastal areas, which would affect the results above as they obviously weren’t born in the state they currently reside in.

In the end, I bet this map would have looked very similar even before the housing crash. A quick look at the same US Census data from 1990 confirms that states like Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and Louisiana also had “low mobility” over 20 years ago, and states like Alaska, Arizona, Florida, and Washington DC had “high mobility”. I’m afraid I don’t see the evidence that mobility has been limited to an “elite sliver of the population”.

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  1. Wandering Mike says

    I think it perhaps could be viewed as reflecting where “home and hearth” are the strongest and people value family and relationships more than money. For many people the world does not revolve about money. We all live and we all die. People sitting around drinking bud lite with family and life long friends can be much happier than people drinking a pricey Bordeaux at a club where they have only superficial relationships.

  2. I very much agree with all the analysis above (especially Wandering Mike). This is a great example of someone pouncing on vague statistics for political opportunism, while using analytical techniques like regression to try to pass it off as “science”, when it is little more than confirmation bias (here is the follow up: I find that this particular narrative, one that I see quite often, reeks of elitism. Thanks for posting.

  3. I agree that I don’t understand the “elite sliver” comment at all. The data on this map show around 50% of America on average as being mobile… half the pie is considered a REALLY big sliver at our Thanksgiving meal.

  4. I agree that the conclusion is odd.

    Living in California, I am surprised by the high percentage of people born here. Growing up here I am not sure I knew very many people who were actually born here. Most people I grew up with immigrated here from other countries. My parents moved to California from the mid-west.

    Of course, my sister moved to a very small town in the south (for a boy – his family was there). Many of my peers moved to Oregon/Washington/Nevada because it was significantly more affordable. On some level the theory is reversed them because those who can not make it here move to more affordable states.

  5. Lets not forget the military influence. Our military forces are huge, and a lot of service members including myself, don’t return home after getting out of the military, but choose to stay where we are at that time, or go somewhere else, rather than return home.

    Not to mention that while serving stateside, service members are rarely stationed in their home state, and usually don’t have a choice as to where they wind up. So that type of mobility has nothing to do with ‘opportunity’ .

  6. Looks like your best bet to being part of the elite mobile class is to those born in Nevada!

    Nice map, but I agree that the original author may have stretched too far in his analysis.

  7. The map shows where you were BORN so it looks back at everyones entire life. So it includes people who moved from Ohio to California in 1958 or people like myself who moved to a neighboring state 15 years ago.

    I agree totally that if you looked at that map 10 years ago it would look about the same. I don’t think the map has much to do with current trends or underwater houses.

    I really don’t think that moving out of your state is something only a luxury of an ‘elite sliver’ of people can do. Thats hogwash. Lots of low/middle income people move out of state or across the country.

    Yes underwater homes are limiting migration unfortunately. But that only impacts a minority of the population.

  8. I agree there’s certainly quite a bit going on to make up that one number for each state. I’m seeing it’s more as an indication of job stability as well. For instance if you’re a union worker in MI you’re going to basically live their your whole life, and even generations can work for the same employer. Versus the hi-tech world of the west coast where people move from job to job with regularity.

    I suppose if you see this as the new way the world will/does work, then those states with less mobility may be at some disadvantage. But more likely they’re just populated with industries where the idea of 1 job as a career is still prevelant.

  9. Although the map is interesting, there are major problems with the conclusion:

    1. Being “stuck” is not the same thing as making a choice to stay.

    2. If a person stays in the state they were born, it might be because times are tough and they cannot afford to move…or it could be the opposite…times are tough, so they have to move to find work elsewhere.

    3. Nevada sticks out like a sore thumb, yet there is a huge number of houses underwater there….more so than the other darker colored states on this map.

    4. Immigration could easily influence these numbers.

    5. What happens to the people that are very mobile but then end up moving back to their home state like me? This map does not necessarily show mobility.

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