Mobility in American Life

May 2, 1973

Report Outline
Propensity of Americans to Move
Changing Patterns of Migration
Prospects for Continued Mobility
Special Focus

Propensity of Americans to Move

Concern Over National Social Effects of Mobility

America has always been a nation of movers. Even after the East was settled and the West was won, Americans continued to move—from the countryside to the city, from the city to the suburb and from city to city. Americans are continually being lured by the hope of employment or greater prosperity, or driven by a deteriorating social or economic environment, to leave one place and go to another. Indeed, the idea of being on the move approaches being something of a national ethic. “Literally leaving home and striking out into new territory has been associated in America with growing up.”

Moving, a year-round occupation, reaches its annual peak when the schools close at the approach of summer. The movers, according to the Census Bureau, are of both sexes, and all ages, races and incomes. College students travel to other states for their education; black families leave the South to seek jobs in the North; the families of executives—“corporate gypsies”—move from city to city; people fed up with city life migrate to the countryside; retired persons leave their northern homes to winter in the South. In all, 18 to 21 per cent of the people in the nation change their place of residence in a given year.

The rotting cores of large cities, urban sprawl, suburban integration and a whole nexus of problems referred to as the “urban crisis” and the “rural crisis” are associated with the mobility of people. But while mobility itself has long been studied by demographers, popular concern over the propensity of Americans to move is relatively recent. Formerly, migration was studied as a function of what it did to specific areas—cities, suburbs and rural America. Increasingly, concern is being expressed about what all this moving around is doing to the people involved.

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