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The Pollution Solution: US Urbanites Flee Cities for Cleaner Air and Improved Mental Health


US homebuyers are fleeing cities due to growing concerns around pollution and mental health, according to new research from HSBC

HSBC’s annual Beyond the Bricks survey revealed that one in five (20 percent) people who moved out of the city this year did so to escape the impact of pollution on their wellbeing. Environmental factors had more influence on their decision to move than the desire to start a family (15 percent) or to be closer to a partner (15 percent).

This comes after the latest air quality data report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that only 20 percent of the global urban population live in cities that meet WHO air quality guidelines (PM2.5).1 In fact, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene estimates that each year, PM2.5 pollution causes more than 3,000 deaths, 2,000 hospital admissions for lung and heart conditions, and approximately 6,000 emergency department visits for asthma in children and adults.2

“A city like New York is both attractive and problematic to young families,” said Saskia Sassen, The Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University and expert in international human migration. “It offers multiple attractions for entertaining both children and adults, but, as with most US cities, urban life comes with high costs of living, traffic congestion and exposure to potentially harmful chemicals and pollutants. Because of this, we are seeing more families leave New York City for the Tri-State suburbs in search of cleaner and better quality air.”

Mental health is another major wellness trend driving movement. In fact, one in four people (25 percent) are expected to experience mental health problems in their lifetime3 and the risk is even higher for city dwellers, who are 21 percent more likely to develop an anxiety disorder. It’s no surprise that 20 percent of US survey respondents said the potential for improved mental health in the suburbs influenced their decision to escape to the country.

Technology has also played an important role in people’s ability to move outside city centers. The rise of flexible working has greatly impacted the decision to move — in fact, more than one in ten (11 percent) urbanites said this was the main reason they decided to leave the city, followed closely by improved public transportation like trains and buses (10 percent) which allow for an easy commute.

Overall, the number of people who moved out of US cities last year increased by 7 percent. The only other country that had this much movement was France (10 percent).

“Choosing where to live is a very personal choice. We’ve noticed that health has become an important factor for some people when deciding where to buy a home,” said Raman Muralidharan, Head of US Mortgage for HSBC’s Retail Banking and Wealth Management business. “A number of families seem to prefer buying a house in the suburbs rather than renting a small apartment in a city. They want more space, but also cleaner air and a calmer mind.”

Survey Methodology

Beyond the Bricks Survey research was carried out by Toluna on behalf of HSBC through an online survey. The total sample size was 11,932 adults aged 21+ across the globe. Fieldwork was undertaken between November 11th to December 5th 2018. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all adults in 10 markets: Australia, UK, Canada, USA, Mexico, France, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan.

HSBC Bank USA, National Association (HSBC Bank USA, N.A.) serves customers through retail banking and wealth management, commercial banking, private banking, and global banking and markets segments. It operates bank branches in: California; Connecticut; Washington, D.C.; Florida; Maryland; New Jersey; New York; Pennsylvania; Virginia; and Washington. HSBC Bank USA, N.A. is the principal subsidiary of HSBC USA Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of HSBC North America Holdings Inc. HSBC Bank USA, N.A. is a Member of FDIC. Investment and brokerage services are provided through HSBC Securities (USA) Inc., (Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC) and insurance products are provided through HSBC Insurance Agency (USA) Inc.

HSBC Holdings plc, the parent company of the HSBC Group, is headquartered in London. The Group serves customers worldwide across 66 countries and territories in Europe, Asia, North and Latin America, and the Middle East and North Africa. With assets of US$2,558bn at 31 December 2018, HSBC is one of the world’s largest banking and financial services organizations.

1 https://www.who.int/sustainable-development/cities/health-risks/air-pollution/en/
2 https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/eode/eode-air-quality-impact.pdf
3 https://www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/

View source version on businesswire.com: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20190430005635/en/