Demographic Variation in Housing Cost Adjustments With US Family Migration

  • Suzanne Davies Withers University of Washington
  • William Clark
  • Tricia Ruiz UCLA
Keywords: family migration, housing affordability, housing costs, inter-metropolitan migration, wives'employment, regional white flight


This paper examines the demographic variation in housing cost adjustment associated with family migration in the United States. The American population continues to migrate away from very large metropolitan areas down the urban hierarchy to smaller metropolitan and micropolitan areas, according to studies based on the 2000 Census and beyond. The exodus from the largest metropolitan areas is frequently attributed to the push effects of diseconomies and congestion, increasing presence of foreign population, and housing affordability problems particularly in the large gateway cities. Yet, there is no empirical study of the housing cost adjustments associated with migration. This study aims to redress this gap by empirically addressing three questions. First, is migration associated with housing affordability adjustments? Second, when families migrate do they increase or decrease their housing costs and what are the demographic variations in these housing cost adjustments? Lastly, are there significant differences in the geographies of housing cost adjustments among migrant families? The first of these questions is addressed using the Census 2000 county-to-county migration flows merged with Census 2000 measures for median housing value and median income. The remaining questions are examined using the 2000 Public Use Micro Sample 5% National file. The results indicate evidence of significant changes in housing costs associated with migration in general, and interstate migration in particular. On average the direction of migration is to more affordable places. Families migrating from the traditional gateway cities with relatively high percentage of foreign born populations are the most likely to make enormous shifts in affordability. However, these moves do not translate neatly into the regional white flight theory. In particular, Hispanics are far more likely to decrease housing costs with migration, as are non US citizens and naturalized citizens. While primarily empirical, this research makes an important contribution to debates within the family migration literature, including conjectures of regional white flight and gendered theories of migration. Family migration towards greater housing affordability is strategic and embedded in larger issues of family work-life balance.


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