Do Americans Want to Move? Probably Fewer Than You Think.

by Dante Chinni January 08, 2024

The freedom to move and find a better life has long been a core tenet of the promise of the United States, a key component in the ability to remake oneself and find success.

Yet, a survey from the American Communities Project finds that in most places, a majority of people are quite happy with where they live. And those most interested in finding new homes tend to be people who live in wealthier, more urban communities.

The findings come from the ACP’s massive 2023 survey of 5,000 adults spread across all the project’s 15 community types. The work, conducted by Ipsos with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, sheds light on the nature of communities and tribalism in the United States as the 2024 election approaches.

Who Doesn’t Want to Move

Overall, the survey found 58% of Americans answered “no” to the question “If your finances and circumstances allowed, would you want to move to a different neighborhood or a different community?”

But the numbers varied widely by community type.

Perhaps most noteworthy in the chart above, there are six community types where more than 60% of residents said they would not move even if they could: the Aging Farmlands, Evangelical Hubs, Graying America, LDS Enclaves, Native American Lands, and Rural Middle America.

Those six types stand out for a few reasons.

First, for the most part, they are not hot spots for real estate. They are generally not growing very fast. The exception here are the LDS Enclaves, which are seeing population increases, but in part because of high birth rates. Some types are struggling economically. The median household income in each of them is below the national figure by $6,000 or more. (You can explore these data and other sets in the ACP’s Data Clearinghouse.)

Second, those six community types are among the most supportive of former President Donald Trump. He won all of them with at least 58% of the vote in 2020.

As the nation has grown more politically and culturally divided, much of the national conversation has turned to questions of tribalism. Indeed, those divisions are at the heart of the ACP’s work as we study American fragmentation. The numbers here suggest that most people in these community types are not looking to move out to wealthier, more urban environs. They like where they live and, one presumes, their communities’ cultures and views.

More Open to Moving

On the other side of the coin, there are four community types where 48% or more residents said they would move if they could: the African American South, Big Cities, Exurbs, and Urban Suburbs.

That set of types is more complicated. The African American South counties tend to be marked by fairly stark racial divides and lower incomes. The Big Cities are densely populated, diverse, and known for deep socioeconomic divides. The Urban Suburbs and Exurbs, on the other hand, tend to be affluent and well-educated.

The desire to move in these different communities (and the desire is still not especially intense) may be the result of different factors. In some places, such as the African American South, it may come from a craving for a better life or set of circumstances. In others, such as the Exurbs and Urban Suburbs, it may result from greater comfort with the idea of moving in general. Many of those communities are full of transplants. And in the case of the Big Cities, which are a mix of rich and poor, it may be some of both.

Regardless of the reason, however, people in those communities seem to have weaker ties to the place they live, as evidenced by their populations’ desire to move. But, on the whole, regardless of the kind of place they live, people do not express a compelling need to find a new home.

The Big Sort

In 2008, journalist Bill Bishop wrote The Big Sort, a book that explored the idea of how the nation overall was becoming more diverse than it ever had been, but at the local level we were increasingly living around like-minded souls. The ACP has found similar trends in its work.

One big question in those findings was what was driving the sorting. Was it driven by groups of people who had the ability to move, while others could not?

These data suggest the forces driving the shifts are not that simple. They indicate we are living near people who see the world the way we do — something we saw evidence for in the main release of this survey data — and, for the most part, we like the  places we have chosen to live. People haven’t been left behind; they like their friends and neighbors. For the most part, they like the bubbles in which they live.

That suggests that getting beyond them and finding compromise may be a serious challenge.

Vol. 3 2020-2021

Deaths of Despair Across America

The American Communities Project is undertaking a 30-month study of Deaths of Despair in its 15 community types.

Learn More