My wife and I followed unique, winding paths to end up in the Pittsburgh suburb we now call home. She was born in Minnesota, raised in Florida, then Virginia, came here for grad school, and stayed after landing a great job. I was born about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, moved to Florida for college, did a short stint in Philadelphia, then landed back in the City of Champions in my mid 20s.
When we moved to our current neighborhood, the first thing we both noticed was how many people our age have lived here their entire lives. While most of these ‘lifers’ are very nice – persistent cliques notwithstanding – we have very different perspectives. I think the same thing about my childhood friends who never moved far from home. Are they more content? More complacent? Or perhaps more myopic? I wonder…
I recently asked the following survey question to a representative sample of U.S. adults:
The largest percentage of respondents live more than 60 miles from where they grew up but it’s only barely more than 1/3 of our respondents overall. Through another lens, a clear majority of Americans live within 60 miles of their childhood home – whether they’ve stayed there all along or moved away and returned. Over 1 in 5 U.S. adults have never lived more than 10 miles from where they grew up.
The demographic differences were fairly predictable. Younger people (particularly 18 to 24 year-olds) are more likely to live within 10 miles of their childhood homes, perhaps because they simply haven’t moved away from mom and dad yet. Older respondents (55+) are more likely to have moved 60 miles away, for good, perhaps to retire in warmer weather. Parents over-indexed as living within 60 miles of home but not 10, perhaps because they wanted to live close to their kids’ grandparents – but not too close.
People in rural, suburban, and urban areas were evenly divided. But people from the U.S. Northeast – especially New York and Pennsylvania – were the most likely to live within 10 miles of where they grew up; people in the U.S. West were the least likely to be 10-milers. People in the U.S. Midwest are the most likely to live within 60 miles of home. People in the U.S. South were the most likely to move 60 miles from home and never return.
The clearest correlation in our demographic data was education level. See for yourself:
This makes sense, right? People who went away to college or grad school were more likely to migrate further from home. People with high school degrees or less stay closer to home. One surprise: The correlation with household income wasn’t nearly as strong.
No group was noticeably more tech-savvy or social media-savvy than the others. Any assumption that a person who moved away from their hometown is more worldly or sophisticated than their anchored counterparts is false.
The 10-miler crew were slightly more likely to be Democrats. Independents were more likely to move away and come back. The groups were equally likely to value religion or own a gun.
But here’s the million-dollar question: Who’s happier? CivicScience has tracked the overall happiness of Americans on a daily basis since 2011. When we cross our happiness question with our ‘where-do-you-live question’ we see this:
Of all the groups, those who have never moved more than 60 miles from home are the happiest, by a few percentage points. The people who have never moved more than 10 miles from where they grew up are the least likely to be unhappy.
One stat jumps off the page. People who moved 60 miles from home, only to return, are 23 percentage points less likely to be happy and twice as likely to be unhappy than the next closest group. The numbers don’t lie.
But why is this group so much less happy? We don’t know for sure. Maybe it’s because they returned home under some kind of duress – this ‘boomerang’ group was 20% more likely than average to be divorced and 20% more likely to live alone. They’re the most likely of all the groups to carry significant debt, particularly student loans and credit cards. Maybe they had to return home to care for a sick parent. Or maybe they chased a dream they couldn’t fulfill. It’s hard to tell without a doubt.
It’s worth pointing out that the Boomerangers are still more likely to be happy than unhappy. So, don’t yell at me if you fit the boomerang profile and you’re the happiest person alive. We’re just calling out the odds here.
And the odds of unhappiness are tilted heavily in one direction.