You can go home again—but maybe you shouldn’t

February 18, 2019

Both my husband and I grew up in the same suburb of New York City and went to college in Boston—but we didn’t find that out (or even meet) until we had moved back to Manhattan for our first jobs. Following marriage and the birth of our first child, we moved again—this time, about 45 minutes north of New York City and about an hour’s drive from our original hometown.

We never lost touch with many of the people with whom we grew up and have been back to the old neighborhood. What surprises us is the large number of people our age who have lived in, or very near to, their childhood homes for their entire lives.

We have wondered: Are they more content? More complacent? Or perhaps more financially stable? Now, a study covered by the website CivicScience has answered some of those questions.

The study asked about 1,200 U.S. adults to indicate which statement (below) applied to them:

  • I always have lived within ten miles of where I grew up (23%) percent of respondents indicated that this was true);
  • I always have lived within 60 miles of where I grew up (22%);
  • I moved more than 60 miles away, but have since returned to where I grew up (21%); or
  • I moved more than 60 miles away from where I grew up and never returned (34%).

The largest percentage of respondents (34%) now live more than 60 miles away from where they grew up—but this group represents only slightly more than one-third of respondents overall, Civic Science reports.

Through another lens, a clear majority of Americans live within 60 miles of their childhood home—whether they’ve stayed there all along, or moved away and returned. Over one-fifth of U.S. adults (23%) have never lived more than 10 miles from where they grew up.

The demographic differences were fairly predictable. Younger people (particularly, 18- to 24 year-olds) are more likely to live within 10 miles of their childhood homes—perhaps because they simply haven’t moved away from mom and dad yet. Older respondents (55+) are more likely to have moved 60 miles away, for good—perhaps to retire in warmer weather. Parents over-indexed as living within 60 miles of home, perhaps because they wanted to live close to their grandchildren—but not too close.

People in rural, suburban, and urban areas were evenly divided, CivicScience notes. But people from the U.S. Northeast— especially New York and Pennsylvania—were the most likely to live within ten miles of where they grew up; people in the U.S. West were the least likely to be 10-milers.

People in the U.S. Midwest are the most likely to live within 60 miles of home. People in the U.S. South were the most likely to move 60 miles from home and never return.

What’s more, respondents who went away to college or grad school were more likely to migrate farther from home.

No group was noticeably more tech-savvy or social media-savvy than the others. Any assumption that a person who moved away from their hometown is more worldly or sophisticated than their anchored counterparts is false.

But here’s the million-dollar question: Who’s happier? CivicScience has tracked the overall happiness of Americans on a daily basis since 2011. When the site crossed its happiness question with its ‘where-do-you-live question,’ the researchers found that , of all the groups, those who have never moved more than 60 miles from home are the happiest, by a few percentage points. The people who have never moved more than ten miles from where they grew up are the least likely to be unhappy.

Interestingly enough, respondents who had moved 60 miles from home, only to return, are 23 percentage points less likely to be happy and twice as likely to be unhappy than the next closest group. The numbers don’t lie.

But why is this group so much less happy? CivicScience cannot say for sure. Maybe it’s because they returned home under some kind of duress – this ‘boomerang’ group was 20% more likely than average to be divorced and 20% more likely to live alone. They’re the most likely of all the groups to carry significant debt, particularly student loans and credit cards. Maybe they had to return home to care for a sick parent. Or maybe they chased a dream they couldn’t fulfill. It’s hard to tell without a doubt.

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