Posts Tagged ‘mobility’

The Great Settling Down

In 1971, the great Carole King sang: “So far away/ Doesn’t anyone stay in one place anymore?” Thirty years later, the editors of The New York Times explained that families in the United States are changing because of “the ever-growing mobility of Americans.” And in 2010, a psychologist argued that “an increased rate of residential mobility played a role in the historical shift” toward individualism. It’s a common U.S. lament that human bonds are fraying because people are moving around more and more. Americans fear the fracturing of communities that constant moving seems to bring.moving-aeon

Yet when King sang, Americans had been moving around less and less for generations. That decline was even more obvious when the Times editorial appeared in 2001, and it has continued to decline through the 2010s. The increasingly mobile U.S. is a myth that refuses to move on. . . . . . . . This essay (which expands on a 2010 post) continues at the online site, Aeon, here.


Update (Feb. 19, 2017):

A Pew report finds that there was a big drop in the moving rates of 25-35-year-olds of the current generation compared to members of generations of the previous few decades when they were 25 to 35: See here.

Update (May 22, 2017):

This column from The Atlantic reviews some of the debate over whether underemployed Americans in declining towns should–or can–move to better opportunities.

Update (June 15, 2017):

This essay from Vox reviews the evidence showing the folks who stay put in their hometowns tend to have many disadvantages compared to those who move away.

Update (November 20, 2019):

The New York Times reports “Frozen in Place: Americans Are Moving at the Lowest Rate on Record,” 9.8% in the last year. Odds are that within a few months, there will nonetheless be an article in the Times referring to the restlessness/rootlessness of modern Americans.

Update (January 7, 2021):

From Surgeon-General Murthy’s well-received book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World (2020):

“… the increasing … mobility of modern society” (p. 42);     “… increased mobility also means…” (p. 98);     “Like technology and increased mobility….” (p. 129)

So it goes.

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Does Education Work?

Just about everyone from left to right believes in the power of more education for more Americans, that more education for all will open up opportunity, raise standards of living, and reduce economic inequality. Some scholars, however, are skeptical.

They have at least three related arguments. One is that the content of education–perhaps beyond basic literacy and skills– does not matter for individuals’ economic attainment, that what matters is the person’s relative level of education. When few people have graduated high school, doing so will make a big difference, but when most people have a high school diploma, then real success then requires going to college. Employers just up their requirements as educational attainment spreads, so what is important is being ahead of the pack.

Another argument is that educational degrees just signal or “credential” people with talent, people who would have succeeded with or without the extra classwork. More degrees for more people will not change that.

A third argument is that advantaged families find ways to pass on advantage to their children even as education becomes more widespread. They do that by supporting their sons’ and daughters’ attainment of yet further, more exclusive schooling, maintaining leads over those from less advantaged backgrounds and thus maintaining the inheritance of inequality (see, e.g., here).

A just-published article takes a look at what happened to equality and social mobility in the United States when a major educational reform swept through the nation in the nineteenth century: compulsory schooling. (more…)

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Place Matters More

As Bay Area residents have known for a while and as readers of The New York Times just read and NPR listeners just heard, much of downtown San Francisco real estate is being snapped up by young, hip, affluent workers in the information technology industry. The Facebook-Apple-Google-Etc. folk are willing to commute long distances to their desks in Silicon Valley – albeit in special, wired, comfort buses. Some tech firms have moved into or expanded office space in the City, most notably Twitter, in part for clear business reasons, but in large measure, it seems, because their employees live nearby. The effects on housing are evident. (A San Francisco blogger several months ago listed the reasons “all my friends are moving to Oakland.” Included were “Divis [Divisadero Street] is clogged with Google buses” and “The [Oakland] landlords aren’t looking for ways to kick you out. You won’t have to have six roommates. You won’t get outbid for a room by some dot-com f***face.”)

Tech workers await bus in S.F. (source)

Tech workers await bus in S.F. (source)

That thousands of well-heeled buyers and renters are choosing inner-city San Francisco — as many others are choosing inner-city New York or Chicago — illustrates a trend that has been going on for quite a while and that has been accentuated by the Great Recession: affluent Americans moving and segregating themselves to pursue the lifestyles they associate with particular places.

In a previous post, I pointed out the widening differences between metropolitan areas by social class and the increasing segregation, since at least the 1960s, between urban neighborhoods by residents’ income. Here I review a few new studies on a byproduct of these trends, separation by cultural taste. One take-away is that America’s widening economic inequality is being more deeply inscribed on the residential landscape. Another is that in age of jet travel, instantaneous communications, and 3-D downloads, an age just a bit short of Star-Trek beaming, where Americans live seems to matter to them more, not less.


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Loss of Economic Exceptionalism

One of the key dimensions of “American Exceptionalism” is the idea that America is the land of opportunity more than any other. We would like to believe that American children who are raised in the meanest conditions are likelier to move up in the world than are children elsewhere. Yet, as of today, the U.S. does not provide more upward mobility than other nations do; if anything, young Americans’ economic fortunes are more tied to those of their parents than is true in other western nations. So, where did this image of exceptional mobility come from?

Two economists, Jason Long and Joseph Ferrie, published a study this summer in the American Economic Review that creatively brings together some 19th-century data to argue that there was a time when the U.S. was exceptionally open – or, at least, more open than Britain was. Two pairs of sociologists wrote critical comments on the study (here and here). Yet, even with the controversy, there is a lesson to be learned.


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New News, Old News

I look forward to reading Steven Pinker’s heralded new book on violence.


Its message, that violence has sharply declined in human history, has been received with gasps of amazement – at least by The New York Times Book Review and by NPR. Pinker appears to have done a thorough job of summarizing the findings – old, familiar findings. My comment focuses on how this media attention illustrates how  the same historical findings come around and around again as startling “news.” (more…)

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The Myth that Never Moves

In a new book on the social costs of economic inequality — a book otherwise reasonable and well-documented — appears a long paragraph that the authors clearly thought needed no footnote or references, because it was so obvious. It is a paragraph about the social costs of increasing residential mobility. It reads in part:

People used to grow up knowing, and being known by, many of the same people all of their lives. Although geographical mobility had been increasing for several generations, the last half-century has seen a particularly rapid rise.

The authors go on to list and to bemoan the consequences, such as people’s identities being “cast adrift” and now “endlessly open to question” (Wilkinson and Pickett, The Spirit Level, 2009, p. 42).

This premise of increasing mobility, alas, is wrong, at least for the United States. It is more than wrong — the truth is exactly the opposite: Geographical mobility has been on the decline for generations.

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