Explaining the Decline in U.S. Internal Migration: The Role of Return Migration
Janna Johnson1, Samuel Schulhofer-Wohl2
1Humphrey School of Public Affairs, 2Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago

The reasons behind the long, steady decline in U.S. interstate migration rates—from 3 percent in 1980 to 1.5 percent today—remain mysterious, despite extensive study by economists and other social scientists.  We investigate a heretofore untested hypothesis for the decline: individuals today are making fewer short-term “mistake” moves, i.e., moving to another state, staying for a short period, then returning to their state of origin, than in the past. We rely on newly available data from the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics (PSID) to construct the long, detailed panel of migration histories needed to distinguish return moves from other types of migration.  When complete, our study will show whether future research investigating the decline in migration should focus on an increasing ability for individuals to make efficient location decisions, leading to a decline in annual migration rates, rather than on forces keeping them from moving at all.