Americans are moving at historically low rates. In 2017, 34.9 million Americans changed residences, translating to a household mobility rate of 10.9%. That’s the lowest mobility, or what we’ll also refer to as a “moving rate,” that the U.S. has seen since the Census Bureau started keeping track more than 50 years ago.
Millennials have been charged with ruining everything “from dinner dates to golf” – but are they also to blame for America’s low mobility rate? No. But their reasons for moving in recent years are changing.
In 2017, 38.4% of 18 to 34 year olds lived with parents or other relatives, up from 28.7% in 1962. And, when compared with older generations when they were the same age, millennials move at much lower rates. However, that narrative clouds the real story—that mobility has decreased across all age groups. For the millennials who are moving, they’re moving more to strike out on their own rather than for traditional reasons such as getting married.
To better understand millennial mobility, Trulia analyzed the reasons why people move, with an eye toward what sets millennials apart and how the young cohort is changing.
We found that millennials are not ruining mobility at all, rather:
- When broken out by age group, the composition of movers has remained consistent over time. Mobility among millennials is at an all-time low—but that’s true for everyone else as well.
- Marriage is less of a reason to move: younger Americans today are nearly twice as likely as they were in 2000 to move out to be on their own as opposed to marriage being a primary reason.
- Young women are closing the gap for job-related moves. While job-related moves for young males has remained consistent over the last two decades, young women moved for jobs at a rate 5 percentage points higher in 2017 than in 2000.
- Millennials are rebounding from the effects of the recession, moving for positive reasons – such as to own instead of rent, or for better housing – at higher rates, and moving for negative reasons – specifically, for cheaper housing – at lower rates.
Other than a spike in moves by young adults in the 1970s and 1980s – when the Baby Boomer generation started forming their own households — the proportion of moves made up by each age group has stayed relatively constant. This suggests that the reasons behind millennials’ recent low mobility are not generation-specific. Mobility rates have steadily declined in the last decades, proportionately across all age groups.
However, it is true that the under 35 age group accounts for the largest proportion of moves—in 2017, they were 19% more likely to move than Americans aged 35 to 54, and 32% more likely to move than Americans aged 55 or older. So, any changes to the millennial mobility rate weighs heavily on the nation’s mobility rate as a whole.
Though housing-related reasons account for the majority of moves across all three age groups, family is a close second for younger Americans – driven by their desire to start their own households. That’s come at the expense of marriage as a primary reason to get a different home.
The reasons Americans give about moving can be aggregated into three main reasons: family-related (e.g. change in marital status, or to establish their own household), housing-related (e.g. to own instead of rent, or for new or better housing), and job-related (e.g. moving for a new job). Of these three categories, moves for housing-related reasons are the most prevalent across all age groups. However, young Americans are significantly less likely than other age groups to move due to housing, with family-related reasons taking up more ground.
Young Americans are about twice as likely than their older counterparts to move because they want to establish their own household – unsurprising, as older age groups will have already established their own households. However, this reason has gained strength over time among young Americans. In 2000, young adults moved to establish their own household 2.5-times more frequently than they did because of getting married. In 2017, they are doing so 4.2-times more frequently.
Note that family-related reasons account for about the same percentage of moves over time; 26% in 2000 and 29% in 2016. In other words, millennials are still moving at the same rate due to decisions surrounding family – but instead of moving for marriage, they’re moving to strike out on their own.
Younger Americans also move for job-related reasons at rates higher than the rest of the population. That’s not unusual. What is: women are more likely to move for a job than they were a generation ago. While males still are more likely to move for job-related reasons than females, that gap has narrowed. In 2000, the share of young males moving for jobs is 9 percentage points higher than females (24% vs 15%), but last year the difference fell to only 5 percentage points (24% vs 19%). The shrinking gap is notably not due to young males moving less for jobs, but young females catching up.
High moving rates for jobs are not necessarily a good thing – moves for jobs peaked among both young males and females during the recession, between 2007 and 2009. However, more parity in job-moving rates between males and females suggests that the two groups face more equal choices and opportunities, which may be related to women also gaining ground in education. The Census Bureau found that since 1996, young women aged 25 to 29 have had higher college attainment rates than young men. While college attainment among young men was at or below 27% during the 37-year period between 1976 and 2011, young women college graduates rose from 20 to 36 percent. In closing—and surpassing—the educational gap, young women open themselves to a greater playing field of career opportunities.
The most recession-sensitive reasons for moving were housing-related. During the recession, positive housing-related moves – moving to own and not rent, for new or better housing, or for a better neighborhood – bottomed out. At the same time, rates of moves for negative reasons – specifically, moving for cheaper housing – increased.
From 2009 onwards, however, we start to see a strong reversal in these trends, especially among younger Americans. In 2017, millennials moved for new or better housing at the same rate as the previous generation of young adults in 2000 (Gen X-ers), climbing back to 16% from a recession low of 13% in 2008. Moves for better housing among middle-aged and older Americans remain at levels lower than before the recession. Millennials also still want to own homes – moves to own and not rent make up 6% of all millennial moves in 2017, up from 4% in 2012 and just a few percentage points lower from the rate of middle-aged Americans (9%).
Given these positive post-recession signals and shifting tastes of millennials, we can expect housing demand to change as well. Since the recession, more moves have been into starter and trade-up homes (as evidenced by increasing shares of moves to own instead of rent, and for better housing). At the same time, millennials are looking for a place to call their own – spouse-free. This demand could put even more pressure on smaller, starter homes. We’ve documented the continued inventory crunch in the US, as well as the market mismatch between demand for starter and trade-up homes and what’s available on the market. These trends spell trouble for prospective homebuyers, but a look back on 2017 new construction offers some hope – last year was the best year for homebuilding activity in a decade, meaning 2018 should see increased growth in single-family construction and inventory.
We used U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey (CPS) microdata to calculate the mobility rate and determine the reasons why people moved. All figures represent householders, and not individuals, as all individuals in a household are assigned the householder’s reason for moving. We categorize all head of households under 35 in 2017 as millennials. Trulla’s analysis categorized reasons for moving as follows: family-related reasons include: Change in marital status, To establish own household, Other family reason; job-related reasons include: New job or job transfer, To look for work or lost job, For easier commute, Retired, Other job-related reason; housing-related reasons include: Wanted to own home (not rent), Wanted new or better housing, Wanted better neighborhood, For cheaper housing, Foreclosure or eviction, Other housing reason; and all other reasons included: Attend/leave college, Change of climate, Health reasons, Other reasons, Natural disaster. When discussing specific housing-related reasons for moving, we did not include “Other housing reasons” and “Foreclosure or eviction”, due to differences over the reporting period in how these answers were collected.