A smaller percentage of Americans are pulling up their roots and moving out of state than at any other time since 1950, the U.S. Census Bureau said Monday, suggesting that the great postwar population shifts that reshaped the country’s political, social and economic landscape have come, for the moment, to an end.
The Census Bureau’s figures show an overall decline in Americans’ mobility. The agency said that about 16.7 percent of the population had changed residences during a oneyear period ending in March 1994, far below the 20 percent that had moved in a typical year during the 1950s and 1960s and the second-lowest level of mobility since 1948 when the bureau began tracking such movement. The percentage of people moving from one state to another dropped to 2.6 percent from 3.6 percent.
Demographers, sociologists and economists said the aging of the population, the growth in twoincome families, the decline in family size and a continuing sense of financial insecurity all have contributed to the trend.
“People are becoming more stable,” Kristin A. Hansen, a demographer with the Census Bureau who produced the study, said.
While Americans still move with much more frequency than people in Western Europe or Japan, the Census Bureau reported that the proportion of people moving has declined significantly since it hit a postwar high of 20.7 percent in 1964-65. After a brief spurt of wanderlust in 1984-85 when 20.2 percent of the population moved mainly because of improving economic conditions, the sedentary trend resumed and has continued unabated.
And with it, some experts say, the era of the great midcentury migrations - that of Southern blacks moving North and the rise of the Sun Belt - may have ended. In its place, some political scientists theorize, is a sense that there is no place left to go to seek a better life.
“That could have something to do with the current political mood,” Walter D. Burnham, a professor of government at the University of Texas, said. “We have always been a country based on optimism and new frontiers. This seems like a different world; one that looks more like a frozen river than a fluid stream.”
A demographer with the Census Bureau, Larry Long, said, “In spite of what John Steinbeck wrote, the fact is good times generate lots of migration and bad times cause people to stay where they are and hold on to what they’ve got.”
Some sociologists attribute the decline to the increase in the number of two-earner families. With more married women working and with two incomes increasingly needed to cope financially, pulling up stakes becomes more complicated.
“It’s harder to get two jobs elsewhere than one,” Peter A. Rogerson, a professor of geography at the State University of New York at Buffalo, said.
“If you break down the mobility rates you find that the rates for single people have gone up slightly. It’s the significant downturn among married people that explains it.”
But some experts say the decline in mobility is a natural consequence of the aging of the American population. Moving rates tend to decline with age. Indeed, the report indicates that 35.6 percent of people aged 20 to 24 years old and 30.7 percent of those 25 to 29 years old changed their residence during the period in question - the highest rates of any age group.
With the elderly - a rather sedentary group - making up a higher proportion of the population and with the Baby Boom generation sliding into middle age, the proportion of the people in their more mobile years is relatively low.
“The least mobile group in the society is middle-age people,” Steve Murdock, a sociology professor at Texas A&M; University, said.
“If you look at our age structure you find that the Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964 make up a third of the U.S. population. They are moving increasingly into ages where there is less mobility.”
According to the report, the big gest drop in mobility was among people who moved within the same county. The proportion fell to 10.4 percent of the population in 1993-94 from the post-World War II high of 13.9 percent in 1950-51.
Some demographers attribute this decline to a high proportion of Baby Boomers having already had children and having “traded up” to larger houses.
The report indicated that people who live in the Northeast are most sedentary, with only 11.7 percent of the population having moved. By contrast, 20.2 percent of the people in the West and 18.1 percent of those living in the South moved.
The Northeast is the only region in the country experiencing net outmigration. More people continue to move to the South, the Midwest and the West than leave those regions.
According to the report, whites have lower overall rates of moving than either blacks or Hispanics. The Census Bureau estimated that 16 percent of whites moved in 1993-94, compared with 19.6 percent of blacks and 22.4 percent of non-white Hispanics.
xxxx COMINGS AND GOINGS The report, entitled “Geographic Mobility: March 1993 to March 1994,” estimates that 6.7 million people moved to a different state, 8.2 million people moved to a different area in the same state and 1.2 million moved to the United States from abroad from March 1993 to March 1994.