Reader Feedback: Why American Migration Might Be Falling

Author: shannon carter

By Catherine Rampell

In response to my post Tuesday on the record low level of migration in the United States last year, an astute reader referred me to a recent paper in The Journal of Economic Perspectives on this subject.

The study — by Raven Molloy, Christopher L. Smith and Abigail Wozniak — notes that the drop in mobility has been going on since the 1980s, and so should not be attributed to the recent downturn. Based on statistical analysis, it also argues that the trend seems to be unrelated to “demographics, income, employment, labor force participation, or homeownership.” Americans are, however, still more likely to move than Europeans, for unknown reasons.

The authors are unsure why migration rates have been falling so steadily in the United States. They suggest a few possible theories, including:

  1. the rise in telecommuting and flexible work schedules, which require fewer workers to move to take a job.
  2.   the fact that different cities and states have become less specialized in the products they produce, which makes the kinds of occupations available in different areas more similar than they used to be. In other words, people don’t need to move to a different region of the country to do the kind of work they want to do.
  3. that differences between different regions in terms of quality of living and other amenities offered have declined, reducing the relative attractiveness of any particular city (e.g., the availability of air-conditioning)

Any other theories, readers?