Recent data from the Census Bureau show that Americans are moving less. In fact, the percentage of Americans that made a move in the last year has more or less steadily declined for over three decades, falling from just over 20% in 1985 to an all-time low of 11.2% in 2016.

For economists, a declining moving rate is concerning because it could be indicative of a U.S. economy that is losing some flexibility and becoming less dynamic. For employers, a less mobile labor force means they may have greater difficulty recruiting workers from other locations to fill their talent needs.

However, this downward trend in mobility is not to say that no one is changing locations. Even with the moving rate at an all-time low, about 26 million American adults made some type of move from 2015 to 2016.

To gain more perspective into the factors that go into the decision to relocate, we surveyed four thousand U.S. workers that started a new job within the past year and asked whether that job required a move to a different location. We found that just greater than one-quarter of our respondents had relocated, with 3% moving from another country and 23% from another state. This moving rate is considerably higher than found in Census Bureau data, possibly due to our survey respondents having started a new job within the past year. Just greater than one-third of our respondents considered moving but did not, while over 38% did not even consider a relocation.

The focus of this blog will be the 23% that had moved to a new state and the 36% that considered the option but did not move. We also segment our survey respondents by generation to examine how the reasons for moving or staying put differ depending on one’s stage in life or their career.

Career is the driving force behind a move the majority of the time

We asked our respondents that moved to a different state for their new job to select the reason that best described why.

A graph showing the reasons people choose to move, based on Indeed survey data.
This graph shows that 45% of cross-state moves occur for career-related reasons, according to Indeed survey data. Split between two reasons, that 45% is comprised of respondents who say, “I got an offer I could not resist,” and “For my longer term career prospects.” 24% of respondents list their reasons for moving as “personal,” while 12% say, “I wanted to change my lifestyle.” 11% say, “I wanted to experience living in other places” while the remaining 8% say, “I’ve always wanted to live in this new state.”

Overall, workers are moving for their careers more often than anything else, as long-term career prospects and getting an offer they couldn’t resist account for 45% of those that moved to a new state. Personal reasons play a key role in the decision to move for many as well, selected by nearly a quarter of respondents.

To examine how reasons for relocating differ depending on age we segmented these results by generation, which based on the age categories presented to survey respondents we define as millennials (ages 18–34), Gen Xers (ages 35–49) and baby boomers (ages 50–65).

A graph showing the reasons people choose to move, based on Indeed survey data and segmented by generation.
This graph shows a breakdown by generation of the various reasons people choose to make cross-state moves in the U.S., according to Indeed survey data. The millennial segment, defined as survey respondents ages 18 to 34, are the most focused on their longer-term career prospects as compared to their Gen Xer (ages 35 to 49) and Boomer (ages 50 to 65) counterparts. Boomers notably make up the greatest share of respondents who “moved for personal reasons,” while Gen Xers were most likely to say that “I got an offer I could not resist.”

The decisions to move by millennials and Gen Xers are more driven by their career. Millennials are the generation most likely to cite long-term career prospects, and ranked second in getting a job offer they couldn’t resist. Out of the three generations, millennials are the least likely to move for personal reasons, possibly a factor of being less likely to have spouses, houses or children, which can factor heavily in such a major life decision. Gen Xers are the generation most likely to move states because of receiving a job offer that they could not resist, which is likely a function of being in the prime of their career and having built up enough experience to stand out to employers looking to recruit talent from other locations.

Baby boomers are the generation most likely to move for personal reasons or because they wanted to live in that particular state, choices which reflect a generation that is likely moving in preparation for retirement. Likewise, boomers are also much less likely to move for an offer they couldn’t resist or long-term career prospects.

What do you mean by long-term career prospects?

One of the more popular reasons for making a move was in the interest of long-term career prospects, selected by 22% of respondents. We asked for more information to discern why these job seekers thought a new location would be better for their long-term career.   

A graph showing a breakdown of the reasons people thought a new location would offer better long-term career prospects.
This graph delves deeper into the reasons why 22% of survey respondents said a move would offer better long-term career prospects. 60% of those survey respondents pointed to a new location as being “a better job market for my skills, allowing me to get jobs easily.” A little less than 50% claim “better opportunities to broaden my skills,” as well as “More of the types of companies that will help  me move my career forward.” 43% point to “better long-term compensation/benefits.” “Better opportunities for further education” and “I already have a good network in this location, allowing me to further build on it” account for the two lowest percentages in this list.

Some areas of the U.S. are doing much better economically than others. Workers in less well-off areas often need to relocate to find a better job match, which is apparent in our survey. For about 60% of those that moved for better long-term career prospects, this meant a better job market for their particular skillset. Sometimes better career prospects simply means the opportunity to make more money, as indicated by the 43% of our respondents that were seeking better long-term compensation and benefits.

Most lifestyle changes involve a better work/life balance

A career is often but not always the main reason for a relocation. About 12% of our respondents that moved states for their new job indicated that they did so because they wanted a change of lifestyle. We asked a follow-up question to find out more about what aspects of their lifestyle they were looking to alter.  

A graph showing a breakdown of lifestyle changes people were seeking, amongst those who cited a desired change in lifestyle as their reason for moving.
This graph looks closer at the 12% of survey respondents who pointed to a “change in lifestyle” as their primary motivating factor for making a cross-state move. Of this group, nearly two-thirds list a “better work/life balance” as a lifestyle change they were seeking, with “broaden my experience” trailing close behind. From there, the lifestyle changes in descending order: “Meet new people and build my network,” “Better access to things/activities I like to do,” “More fast-paced life (work, personal or both),” “More slow-paced life (work, personal or both),” “Learn a new language/culture,” and finally, “Other.”

Nearly two-thirds of those looking to change their lifestyle selected a better work/life balance as their top priority, broadening their experience close behind. However, a change in lifestyle does not always mean a change in the same direction. Just over one-fourth of respondents desired a more fast-paced daily grind, while 22% were seeking to move to a more slow-paced life.  

Why some stay put

As noted at the beginning of the post, Census Bureau data show that Americans are moving less. Recent analysis from the PEW Research Center found that heavy-footed millennials could be part of the explanation. Although the majority of our survey respondents did not move for their new job, we know that about 36% at least considered the option. We asked those respondents more details to see just why members of each generation decided to stay put.  

A graph showing a breakdown of the reasons people chose not to move, based on Indeed survey data and segmented by generation.
This graph shows a breakdown by generation of the various reasons people chose not to move, according to Indeed survey data. In looking at the 36% of survey respondents who considered a move but ultimately stayed put, “family and personal reasons” were cited most often as the reason why by millennials (ages 18 to 34) and Gen Xers (ages 35 to 49), with it coming in as a close second for Boomers (ages 50 to 65). Boomers pointed to getting “a great offer in my current location” as the most common reason for staying by a large margin compared to the other two generations. Other less notable reasons for not making a move include “I’m still planning to move, just haven’t found the right opportunity,” “Not good enough long-term career prospects/job market in that location was not attractive enough,” and “I didn’t want to change my current lifestyle,” in addition to “Other.”

For all generations, getting a great offer in their current location and family/personal reasons were most often cited for deciding against a move.

For millennials, when it comes to citing reasons for considering but not relocating, their focus on their career appears to take a backseat. In contrast to being the most likely to cite their long-term career as a reason for moving, Millennials are the generation least likely to cite not good enough long-term career prospects in their potential new location as a reason for staying put.

Baby boomers are the generation least likely to cite getting an offer they could not resist as a reason for relocating. However, baby boomers lead other generations in citing getting a great offer in their current location as a reason to stay put by a substantial margin. Less than 40% of boomers even considered making a move, so it is possible that this contrast is due to baby boomers being much more keen on job offers that will keep them in the same location.

Our survey results shed some light on the reasons why workers decide to relocate or stay put in their same location. Employers can still attract candidates from outside of their local talent pool with the right offer, particularly one which younger candidates feel would be better for their long-term career prospects or broaden their skills. Moreover, employers can even help make themselves appealing to workers looking for a change of lifestyle by offering the better work/life balance sought by many workers.


Methodology:

The survey was run by a third-party firm on behalf of Indeed. The responses were collected between August 10th and November 9th 2016. Respondents were asked to report whether they did or did not move to a different state in order to take up a new job in the previous year.