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Are We Really an Increasingly Mobile Society?

Do you think Americans are more mobile than ever before? Most people seem to. In fact, the mobility of contemporary life seems so self-evident that in many articles, claims about it are not even backed by references.

When I was researching How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, I interviewed people who lived contentedly, all their lives, in the town where they grew up. A few others left briefly, but did not go far and ultimately returned for good.

For all of the different lifespaces that I got to see during my travels for the book, I paired the life stories from my interviews with historical perspectives. How did the individual life experiences fit in with the broader historical and sociological context?

Here are 6 fun facts I learned about mobility. (References are in How We Live Now.)

  1. American society has often been described as increasingly mobile, but that’s a myth. Sociologist Claude Fischer noted that “the great majority of Americans were more settled at the end of the twentieth century than at its middle, and indeed, probably more settled than at any earlier time in American history.”
  2. Data that have been gathered since 1948 showed that mobility has decreased steadily, reaching an all-time low in 2011, when only 11.6% of Americans had moved within the past year.
  3. Nearly 40% of American adults have never left their hometown and 57% have never lived outside the state where they were born.
  4. Most moves are short distances. Fewer than 2% are out-of-state moves.
  5. The people who are most likely to be helpful to their relatives (doing errands, offering rides, helping with childcare and household chores) are those who are less well-off financially. They are also the ones most likely to live near kin.
  6. A study of leaving home in 15 nations found that the grown children who stayed in their parents’ home the longest tended to stay closest to them geographically once they did move out. (They tended to be emotionally closer, too.)

Home sweet home sign photo available from Shutterstock

Are We Really an Increasingly Mobile Society?

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2015). Are We Really an Increasingly Mobile Society?. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Nov 2015
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