John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
More results from the Atlantic Media/Siemens State of the City Poll.
Since the start of the recession, Americans have been moving to new places far less often than they used to—only 11.6 percent of U.S. residents switched homes last year, compared to 20 percent in the 1950s. But 36 percent of the U.S. population would consider packing up a U-Haul relatively soon, according to the new Atlantic Media/Siemens State of the City Poll.
That's not to say there isn't still a firm sense of rootedness among the populace. About two-thirds of those surveyed said they're fine where they are for the long-term. But in cities, there's a bubbling sea of wanderlust: 47 percent of U.S. urban residents surveyed said they're open to the idea of moving in the next year or two, compared to only 30 percent of non-urban residents.
So who exactly are these Americans with roving, if perhaps optimistic, aspirations? The State of the City Poll revealed four key demographic factors that appear to significantly influence Americans' willingness to move: being a city dweller; being young; being non-white, and being relatively low-income. Factors like education level, gender, and political leaning, did not appear to play a significant role.
Bailey Elliott, a 20-year-old college student in Las Vegas who took the survey, would at some point like to experience a new environment. "As far as Vegas goes, I've lived here my whole life," she says. "There are really no major ties for me to it other than family."
Age was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a significant predictor for willingness to move. Respondents aged 18-34 like Elliott were the most prone to transient thoughts, with 49 percent of them saying they'd consider moving soon, compared to 36 percent among those aged 35-49, 33 percent among those 50-64, and 23 percent among those 65 and older.
Minorities across the U.S. were significantly more amenable to a hypothetical move than whites, at 42 percent and 33 percent, respectively. Among minority groups, African Americans were the most likely to consider moving (46 percent), while 39 percent of those who identified as Hispanic said they'd be willing to move.
Income also played a big role. Those who make less than $30,000 a year were much cozier with the notion of moving (44 percent) than those who make between $30,000 and $75,000 (35 percent) or those who make more than $75,000 (31 percent). Perhaps that has something to do with housing situations: More than half (54 percent) of those dreaming about living elsewhere were renters, compared to 26 percent among those who own their homes.
Respondents who said they would consider moving soon were also asked about specific reasons why they might move. Within that group, urban residents were slightly more likely to cite economic opportunity as a reason to move (73 percent) than non-urban ones (68 percent).
Overall, just 28 percent of respondents said they would consider moving soon in order to live a "more city style of life" than where they are now. That sentiment was somewhat stronger with the youngest demographic group, those aged 18-34, among whom 34 percent cited the chance to live in a city as a key reason to move. Only 14 percent of those 65 and older and 20 percent of those aged 50-64 said the same, while 30 percent in the 35-49 age group agreed.
Forty-nine percent of city dwellers like Mary Comstock, a 38-year-old mom and community-theater member in Santa Barbara, California, said better public schools would be a reason to move. That compares to 32 percent of non-urban residents who said the same. Comstock says she'd like to move with her husband and home-schooled kids to someplace bigger than her current apartment.
"We've been renting for eight years and our financial situation has changed," she says. "So we can finally, hopefully afford to move and buy our own place."
Urban residents who identified themselves as parents were also much more likely to say a lower cost of living would be a reason to move (81 percent) compared to the urban childless (66 percent). And inhabitants of the U.S. Northeast (87 percent) were more likely to consider moving for a lower cost of living than any other region (69 percent in the Midwest, 67 percent in the South, and 62 percent in the West).
Bow Gray is one of those people who'd like to think he'll move when more money starts flowing in. He works as a day laborer in Amarillo, Texas, but is taking courses to become an expert with computers. "Being a software engineer, there's not too much going for me here in a city of about 200,000 people," says Gray, who's 32.
He imagines getting a place on the outskirts of a city, preferably near the ocean, which he finds "awe-inspiring." He hasn't picked a destination, though. "If I make it in software engineering, I'll have lots of money and can pick and choose," he says.
But does Gray actually think he'll be across the country in a couple years, gazing at the ocean? That depends on how things go with his love interest, who has a child.
"I mean, I would love to move personally, but the thing is with this girl I want to be around her," he says. "I'm not going to say, 'Hey, leave your son behind and come with me.'"
The Atlantic Media/Siemens State of the City Poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,656 U.S. adults by telephone between July 23 and August 4. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. For more details on the poll's methodology, go here.