Do people stick around?
June 14, 2007 5:55 AM   Subscribe

"80% of people grow up to live within a 20 mile radius of where they were born." Is this true?

A friend of mine recently mentioned an interesting statistic:

"80% of people grow up to live within a 20 mile radius of where they were born."

Unfortunately, she didn't know the source.

I'm currently helping a local charity and would like to use this phrase, or one like it, to help demonstrate the long-term benefit of funding early-childhood education programs.

My approximate argument being: "Fund these programs now, because most of these kids will literally grow up to be your neighbors."

The actual merits of this argument aside, does anyone know if this quote is true and/or have a similar statistic from a citable source?

(Extra credit: Any statistics regarding the American Midwest - namely, SW Ohio - would be particularly helpful.)

Oh mighty Hive mind! I beseech theeā€¦ my long and weary wanderings on the Internets have born no fruit and I now humbly turn to thee!
posted by LakesideOrion to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Don't know, but you might find this interesting.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:00 AM on June 14, 2007

Seems dramatically more likely to be true internationally than in the United States, thanks to our affluence and access to travel technology. So even if it were true, it wouldn't mean that SW Ohioan children will grow up to be SW Ohioans; it would mean that Senegalese villager children will grow up to be Senegalese villagers, because they don't have the same access to education and opportunities and airplanes that allow SW Ohioan children to get out of SW Ohio if they so choose.
posted by decathecting at 6:04 AM on June 14, 2007

Are we talking about the developed world or the whole globe? If it's the latter, I'm not surprised at all. There's not a whole lot of mobility for subsistence farmers.

If we're just talking the USA -- and I'm guessing we are -- then I'm dubious.

But even if it were true that people live where they are born, I'm not sure it would be very useful for you. Shouldn't charity have an rather strong element of altruism -- not "invest in these kids so YOU will have better neighbhors"? How about just improving life for these kids generally, no matter where they end up living or who their neighbors are?

I actually think nonprofits who exploit self-interest to wrangle money are pretty smart, but this particular ploy... I dunno. Less so.
posted by bluenausea at 6:10 AM on June 14, 2007

I suspect that this number would be even higher in rural areas of the country. I grew up in eastern NC and I know more than 80% of the folks have to still be living there.
posted by corpse at 6:18 AM on June 14, 2007

blenausea: what exactly is wrong with adding the motivation of enlightened self interest? I hear it mixes rather well with altruism. And in this context, it includes something for the hypocrite, who wishes merely to appear altruistic, while being satisfied on the basis of self interest. Win-win.

I suspect that most of us here would be quite surprised at the percentage of people in the US living their lives at home. Yes, many travel for work or pleasure, and many go away for college. But that's not saying they don't live around their origin.

Just look at the crowds of folks living in the rust belt, waiting for someone to come along and create new work for them. Apart from the fact that the history of America, when it's not about war, is about people pulling up stakes to find someplace where the grass is greener, I think that most don't take that leap. (Although I wonder if an exception might be required for retirees that move to warmer places, to make the statistics work)
posted by Goofyy at 6:20 AM on June 14, 2007

This is from personal experience ONLY. I live in Cincinnati. I've noticed that about 50% of my friends are born and raised Cincinnatians whose parents were born and raised by their parents, born and raised Cincinnati-style. I moved here to go to school and after graduation I got a job at a company that promotes family-lineage in an almost creepy way (Parents get their kids jobs, kids become parents and then get their kids jobs, so weird). I know that I am originally from where Ohio, KY, and WV meet (about three hours east) but I'm moving again soon (probably Vegas), but the 50% of my friends that are BnR are probably here for life.

I think you've got your work cut out for you LakesideOrion. Cincinnati (which is what I assume you mean by SW Ohio) is an anomaly. Where else in the nation do you hear people ask what high school you attended when you're 25 years old? Seriously, what the christ is that about?

Enquirer piece about people not wanting to move.

I'll ask one of my urban planner friends who works downtown to see what they have to say about it.
posted by banannafish at 6:21 AM on June 14, 2007

Response by poster: Yeah, I'm thinking specifically the USA.

You're right bluenausea, "altruism" and "improving life for kids" play a huge roll in our messaging. In fact, almost all of our messaging is currently focused (maybe to a fault?) on these areas.

The approach mentioned above is just another angle to tackle the problem. Another "reason to believe" as we say in the biz. At this point, this is still sort of half-baked idea.

Just wanted to see if anybody knew if the statement was even true.
posted by LakesideOrion at 6:24 AM on June 14, 2007

I've heard that statement too, but I heard it as having a 50 mile radius. I believe it! Most of the people I know live within 50 miles of where they grew up. I have no source for you, though.
posted by christinetheslp at 6:28 AM on June 14, 2007

Goofyy: I think enlightened self-interest is great! It's an excellent nonprofit practice to give back something to your donors -- either an upfront incentive (this will benefit you too!) or better yet, updates on how your money is being used, the great things the organization is doing newsletter, a calendar with pictures of happy kids, a pencil-scratched thank-you letter with touching misspellings from some indonesian kid whose village has clean water because you send them $20 every month... I highly approve of all this. Yes, you waste some money but you keep your donors happy and that means better revenue and better programs -- all good things.

I'm just not sure that this particular hook (these kids are going to be your neighbors in 20 years!) is really going to catch that many people. I think that stat would make most people, even in SW Ohio, scratch their heads a little bit, think about the people they know who might or might not live there anymore, and move on. And with nonprofit marketing, you don't want people to think. You want them to respond.

The community-building incentive is a good one, but aren't there some immediate, local issues that you can tap into for this purpose rather than some uncertain stat?
posted by bluenausea at 6:34 AM on June 14, 2007

The developmental research on ECE is truly amazing ... if you want more research (I just did a paper on this) e-mail me through the profile. The best statistic is the trial program that saved law enforcement $150,000 *per child* enrolled. Returns on most of these programs, if anyone out there is still a skeptic, usually number at least 6:1.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:39 AM on June 14, 2007

Googling is failing me right now, but I remember reading articles which claimed that the average or typical move by a US household was a distance of less than 50 miles, or somesuch. That doesn't support your hypothesis, though, since one might make several small moves and one or two large moves. I moved 19 times in 25 years, but only 4 were greater than 50 miles -- but those 4 were were each over 1500 miles.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:46 AM on June 14, 2007

Best answer: You can get some idea from "Annual Geographical Mobility Rates, By Type of Movement: 1947-2005" (excel) found here under the historical CPS data area. The average per year seems to be around 93.2% stay where they are or within the same county. The difficult part seems to be across the years, since the data doesn't track that. I took the 93.2% back 25 years and arrived at 16%, but a good majority of the people who move may circulate amongst a few counties, move back home after college, etc., so crunching those numbers will need something else.
posted by jwells at 6:53 AM on June 14, 2007

Best answer: This won't precisely answer your question, but it might give you some insight.

Geographic Mobility/Migration.
posted by desjardins at 6:55 AM on June 14, 2007

I've heard it phrased differently: 80% of people die within 20 miles of where they were born.
posted by dobbs at 6:58 AM on June 14, 2007

Another Cincinnati person here (although I'm originally from West Viriginia so I guess I don't fall in this statistic). I assume this person is talking about people from "The Westside". The west side of Cincinnati is famously intergenerational, which a lot of people look down upon but there is some positives such as a tight community bonds that are formed and a real sense of pride of where you are from. Plus if you like your extended family having them all together is wonderful way to grow up. The east and north side of city seems to have a lot more of the transplants to the area (that's where I moved to when I came here).

As to the actual numbers (20 miles and 80%), I have no facts to share, but I wouldn't doubt that with a few more miles this would be very true. At 20 miles you can draw a comfortable ring around most American cities. Push that number to 30 or 40 and damn easy. Think of all the people who grew up in the SF Bay Area or in the NYC area. The 30 or 40 mile ring would still cover them and how many of them have always lived there.
posted by mmascolino at 7:15 AM on June 14, 2007

Just giving another Ohian opinion (SE Ohio). I would say that 80% or more of the people I know still live there. Me, my brother, and a couple close friends have all moved on to different states. We are all mechanical engineers though, and there's not a booming market for our job skills in that area. So I would say it really depends on the area.

For what it's worth, though, I've heard the quote, but usually associate it with how in the 'olden' days with horse and buggy, that most people (80% or more) wouldn't ever go BEYOND x number of miles from the place of their birth during their entire lives. Perhaps the quote is evolving as our lifestyles and habits change?
posted by johnstein at 7:24 AM on June 14, 2007

> Cincinnati (which is what I assume you mean by SW Ohio) is an anomaly. Where else in the nation do you hear people ask what high school you attended when you're 25 years old?

Well, I see you haven't been to the 50th State -- Hawaii. The high-school question (phrased in the vernacular as "where you grad?") is posed to all ages. I'm sure it's asked in retirement communities and hospices.

Many Hawaii people head off to the mainland, relocating to California or even points further east. But a large number stick around. Some don't get off of their own island, f'r crying out loud.

The balmy climate and great scenery play a large part in making it hard to move, of course.
posted by Gordion Knott at 7:54 AM on June 14, 2007

This is highly observable if you just go back to the place of your birth, especially if you were born in a small-to-mid-size town or somewhere vaguely rural. 80% of the people you went to school with will still be living there, with the number gradually increasing the older you get as people come back from university.
posted by reklaw at 8:06 AM on June 14, 2007

Think of all the people who grew up in the SF Bay Area.

??? The San Francisco area is notoriously transient. Sometimes it feels like nobody is from here.

According to the 2000 census, more than 25% of people living in the Bay Area (which includes Sonoma and Napa counties) were born outside of the country. If you look at the most populated/urban counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara, you'll discover that greater than one in three people living there was born overseas.

I grew up in Washington, DC, and graduated with approximately 150 other seniors in the early 1990s. If the alumni newsletters and my own observations are any indication, perhaps 30% of my graduating class is still in the district.
posted by toxic at 8:40 AM on June 14, 2007

I don't know about the Cincinnati area in particular but from what I know about growing up in Ohio and going to college there I would be very surprised if only 20% of the population was leaving. While many of my friends who didn't make it past high school stayed close to home, nearly all of those who went on to college not only left the area, they left Ohio.

The conclusion is that higher education leads to higher rates of leaving Ohio.
posted by tomo at 8:56 AM on June 14, 2007

I was probably reaching a bit for the SF Bay Area example and it certainly falls down in any of the high tech sectors out there, but maybe not for other sectors (I base this on my talking with random Joes and Janes on the street...espacially the older folks who seem to have lived there for decades).

D.C. is also to be expected to be an extreme outlier in the middle to upper classes since it is the seat of government. I lived in Brussels for awhile and I would be hard pressed to count the natives I knew vs. Italians and French and British.

Dobb's statement above:I've heard it phrased differently: 80% of people die within 20 miles of where they were born. Also warrants investigation.

The conclusion is that higher education leads to higher rates of leaving Ohio.

I would genericize to say that higher education leads to transitory behavior in most everyone although I imagine its not evenly distributed among disciplines. If you are in a field that is relatively insular and specific (e.g. a job in academia...then you are going to go where the job is). If you are in a field that is more broad (e.g. business, law, education, nursing, etc.) the migration would be less.

Anyways, without hard data, this is all just opinions. :)
posted by mmascolino at 9:10 AM on June 14, 2007

desjardins link is a great one, and there is a document there that does more or less answer the original question, by disproving the original premise.

This document (PDF) has a breakdown of the number of people who can truthfully state: "On April 1, 2000, I resided in the same state in which I was born".

There is not a single state where 80% of residents were born in the state. Pennsylvania is close, with 77% (I suspect the Amish population may play a role here).

In the great majority of cases, "born in a different state" and "born 20 or more miles away" are going to be equivalent... so there's no way that "80% of US residents live within a 20 mile radius of their birthplace" could be true.
posted by toxic at 9:22 AM on June 14, 2007

According to the 2000 census, more than 25% of people living in the Bay Area (which includes Sonoma and Napa counties) were born outside of the country. If you look at the most populated/urban counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara, you'll discover that greater than one in three people living there was born overseas.

Toxic, that actually has nothing to do with the percentage of people born in the Bay Area who stay here. You need information on the number of Bay Area residents that stick around, not how many people currently living in the Bay Area are from somewhere else.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:26 AM on June 14, 2007

Am going to be a I-don't-have-time-to-Google jerk here, but: I've read in several places that Londoners are v. likely to spend their lives not just in London, but in the same post code.
posted by kmennie at 10:07 AM on June 14, 2007

Another anecdotal datapoint here-- easily 70-80% of the people I grew up with are still in my hometown or near to it.

I imagine that as time goes on though, these figures will decrease, at least in my location, as the cost of living is increasing dramatically, forcing a sort of mass-exodus. (North Shore/ "Gold Coast", Suffolk County, Long Island, NY)

I don't live there anymore-- I'm in Grad school upstate, and have no plans on going back there other than to visit.
posted by exlotuseater at 12:19 PM on June 14, 2007

Sometimes that 80% gets flipped around:

Four out of every five children born in Ireland between 1931 and 1941 emigrated in the 1950s: Lee, J.J. (1992) Ireland 1912-1985. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
posted by meehawl at 12:36 PM on June 14, 2007

I'll illustrate the other side: when I saw the list of people/current locations invited to my high school reunion, I would estimate more than 50% were no longer anywhere near our high school. In fact, saying 80% had moved away would not seem like a stretch.

However, I grew up in a VERY military area (2 Army bases, 1 Navy, 1 Air Force, Coast Guard training station), so most people did not have roots there. That would probably skew the results. I always tell people that no one is FROM there. (Southeastern Virginia, if anyone is trying to figure out where I'm talking about).
posted by timepiece at 1:49 PM on June 14, 2007

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