New Census data show most Minnesotans settle close to where they grew up

By: - July 28, 2022 8:35 am

Most Minnesotans settle near where they grew up but are much more likely to do so if they grew up in urban rather than rural areas. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

New data released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau finds that by the time they reach their mid-twenties, most Americans don’t stray far from the towns they grew up in. It shows that 80% of young adults stay within 100 miles of their hometowns, and that minorities and members of low-income households are even less likely to move.

In Minnesota, the data shows that 74% of people growing up in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region still live there at age 26. Cities like Duluth and Fargo-Moorhead have similarly high rates of retention. 

By contrast, young residents of rural areas – like the far northwest and southwest parts of the state – are much less likely to stick around. Fewer than 40% of people growing up in Roseau near the Canadian border, or Redwood Falls, west of Mankato, remained in those regions at age 26. The report draws on anonymized Census and tax data for children born in the U.S. between 1984 and 1992. The findings are reported at the level of commuting zones, which are groups of counties clustered around a town or city center.

These numbers are partly a reflection of higher education trends and economic opportunity, said Susan Brower, the state demographer. 

Minnesota’s young adults in the metros generally have more access to post-secondary schools without having to move away,” Brower said via email. “Those in rural areas typically need to move to a regional center, to the Twin Cities, or out of state to attend post-secondary school. Once they’ve moved they form social ties and have new economic opportunities that may keep them away from their home community after they’ve completed college.”

Brower noted that there’s something of a counter-trend when people hit their later twenties and thirties. Once they’ve accumulated degrees and skills in an urban job market, some young adults head back home to start families. But that trend isn’t large enough to offset the general migration from rural areas to cities, she added.

Another clear trend in the data is that people growing up in bigger cities are more likely to move out of state than those growing up in rural places. Roughly two thirds of the people who left Minneapolis-St. Paul, for instance, moved to a different state entirely, with Chicago being the No. 1 out-of-state recipient of Minneapolitan transplants.

Migrants from Redwood Falls (pop. 4,977), by contrast, were three times more likely to remain in-state than go to a different state. 

The data also paints a picture of migration more complex than “big cities win, small towns lose.” In Roseau, for instance, the No. 1 destination for young adults moving away is Fargo-Moorhead, and nearly as many end up in nearby Thief River Falls (pop. 8,792) as in the Twin Cities. People who grow up in small towns and rural areas often end up moving to other such areas rather than big cities.

One final wrinkle in the data is that pandemic-era changes to society are going to scramble these numbers in the coming years. New data from the Economic Innovation Group, for instance, shows that during the pandemic migration away from urban centers accelerated, with families of young children showing the biggest shift.

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Christopher Ingraham
Christopher Ingraham

Christopher Ingraham covers greater Minnesota and reports on data-driven stories across the state. He's the author of the book "If You Lived Here You'd Be Home By Now," about his family's journey from the Baltimore suburbs to rural northwest Minnesota. He was previously a data reporter for the Washington Post.

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