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Guess Who’s to Blame for the Decline in Moving?

You’ve probably seen the headlines that Americans are moving at a lower rate than ever. Who’s to blame? Millennials, of course. Don’t they get the blame for everything?

The evidence is out there in a recent Pew Research Center analysis that shows millennials are more unlikely to move than prior generations have been during the same age range.

And it’s not even close. The report shows the average percentage of movers among 25- to 35-year-olds in each generation. For baby boomers and other generations, the percentage of members who moved during the previous year when they were that age range hovered around 26 percent. For millennials, the percentage is 20 percent.

(The reason the tracking begins at age 25 is to more accurately reflect trends that are not part of the process of moving to or from college.)

To be fair, not everyone blames millennials for the decrease in geographic mobility. The Census Bureau, for example, cites several factors, including rising housing costs, decreased job opportunities, and an increased acceptance of multi-generational homes.

The moving paradox

One of the things that makes it unusual that millennials move less is that the demographic general has characteristics that should support more moves.

A recent Gallup Poll indicates millennials are in no rush to marry. As of 2014, only 27 percent of generation members were married, compared with 36 percent of Generation X, 48 percent of Baby Boomers, and 65 percent of Traditionalists in the same age range. Staying single should indicate an ability to move to diverse locations, but the opposite has been true.

Another Census Bureau factoid: Home ownership for those under the age of 45 has decreased dramatically over the past three decades. Again, not having to sell a home first should indicate a greater ability to move.

Research also identifies some reasons why millennials aren’t moving:

  • A significantly higher rate of millennials live in households with three or more people – even if they have never married, according to the Gallup Poll. What does it mean? It’s possible that the ways member of the generation form social bonds and extended selected families play a larger role in their reluctance to move than previously thought.
  • Another fact worth noting is that a greater number of single millennials are having children. At age 34, about half of unmarried millennials have children, while about 83 percent of married millennials are parents. So while marriage might be delayed, having children is not. This could help account for the reluctance to move.

More potential inhibitors

But, as usual, there’s more to the story of millennials not moving. According to an analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, members of that generation were hit harder by the Great Recession than other generations. They found themselves with a higher debt ratio as a result of ballooning college expenses while simultaneously facing a diminished labor market.

Additionally, the Office of Financial Research recently released its findings that the tighter lending standards that emerged from the Great Recession made it much more difficult for millennials to obtain mortgages. This, of course, reduces their ability to purchase a home – again resulting in fewer moves.

What about the future?

All the available survey data strongly points to a generation that is interested in marriage, home ownership, and having children. It may simply be that millennials simply are pushing the timeline further out than earlier generations. If this is so, the next decade could show a much greater number of millennials marrying, purchasing a home, having children, and, yes, moving.

Which, of course, would again buck the prevailing trend: Members of other generations become less likely to move as they age.

To sum it up: The reasons adults between the ages of 25 and 35 move less are likely as complex as the generation itself. The wildly changing social, financial, and economic landscape that comprised the early life of this generation has created new norms, the implications of which we are only beginning to understand.


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