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On the Move: Why Young Adults Today Are More Mobile Than Previous Generations

Sarah Mikhitarian
  • The share of 25- to 34-year-olds who have lived in their current home for fewer than two years rose from 33.8% in 1960 to 45.3% in 2017.
  • Among large metros, the biggest increases in the share of young people with short home tenures were in Boston, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Philadelphia.
  • The majority of young adults who move do so within the same metro area, and an increasing share are moving to a different metro in the same state.

Untethered from family and enticed by new job opportunities, young adults are more mobile today than they have been in nearly 60 years for which data are available. The share of young adults who have lived in their current home for fewer than two years is 11.6 percentage points higher than in 1960.

Younger adults have always lived in their homes for shorter tenures than older Americans. In 1960, just over a third (33.8%) of young adults between the ages of 25 and 34 had moved within the previous two years, compared with 19.7% of 35-44 year-olds, 14.7% of 45-54 year-olds, 12.2% of 55-64 year-olds, and 11.2% of 65+ year-olds. A primary contributor to this trend, which has held over time, is that mid-twenty and thirty-somethings are in the nascent phases of adult life. Finishing school, moving out of their childhood homes and starting careers are all catalysts to finding a new place to call home.

But the share of young adults who have lived in their home for fewer than two years rose to 45.3% in 2017. Meanwhile, with the exception of those between the ages of 35 and 44 years old, mobility for older Americans remained mostly unchanged from 1960.

Today's young adults are of course different in many ways from their counterparts in 1960. They tend to be more educated and are more likely to be renters, for example. And renters in general move more often than homeowners: Nearly half of renters who moved in the past year already plan to move again in the next year[i]. Even after controlling for these differences, however, a greater share of young adults today have had a short tenure in their homes.

Shorter tenures are related to changes in workplace norms. The typical career trajectory has fundamentally changed since the 1960s. Rather than climb a corporate ladder, many young adults hop from one role or job function to the next, often requiring a move to a new location for each step. The typical employed millennial has been with their current employer for 2.8 years, while the median tenure is more than 10 years for those 55 and older[ii].

In addition, demographic changes have made it easier for today's young adults to get up and move. Millennials have gained a reputation as the generation that delays life's major milestones, like getting married and having children, which often prompt settling into a more stable or permanent housing situation. Instead of starting a family in their early to mid-twenties as was the norm in past decades, many are waiting until they are established in their careers. Ultimately, this analysis highlights the activities of young adults who have just started their careers as well as those who are moving into a bigger home when they marry or have children, or simply into a home of their own as they progress in their lives and careers.

The majority (53.5%) of young adults who move do so within the same metro area, perhaps to be closer to work or into a larger place as their family grows. An increasing share are moving to a different metro within the same state. Young adults today are more likely than previous generations to live in urban cores[iii], so these could be job-related moves from college towns or rural areas into nearby cities where job growth has been concentrated in recent years.

Among the 35 largest metros in the U.S., the greatest increases in the share of young adults that had recently moved were in Boston (up 22 percentage points from 1960), Pittsburgh (up 20.9), Detroit (up 17.7) and Philadelphia (up 17.4). This share of recently moved young adults has fallen since 1960 in four metros –Las Vegas (down 6.7 percentage points), Riverside (down 6.3), San Diego (down 3.8) and Orlando (down 1.3).

[i] 2019 Zillow Group Report: https://www.zillow.com/report/2019/renting-a-home-in-america/renter-overview-key-facts-figures/

[ii] Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/tenure.t01.htm

[iii] Housing Finance Policy Center: https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/98729/millennial_homeownership_0.pdf

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