Haya El Nasser @hayaelna USA TODAY
Many cities are thriving and suburban sprawl is showing signs of slowing. But where Americans choose to live continues to be driven by the same reasons that have shaped migration patterns for half a century: how old they are and whether they're raising kids.
Twenty-somethings seek the fun and excitement of big cities. When the kids come, most go in search of bigger and cheaper homes and better schools in the suburbs. And while most older Americans don't move at all, when they do, they head for warmer climates and more scenic and pastoral areas.
"So far, the traditional pattern at various life stages still exerts a lot of influence," says Kenneth Johnson, co-author of new research presented this week at the Population Association of America meeting in New Orleans. "There's a remarkable continuity in migration patterns to most areas. It's always the same groups leaving or coming in."
The migration data by age, race and ethnicity is now available for every county for every decade from 1950 to 2010.
The core of large metropolitan areas - cities of at least 1 million -- drew a net 2.7 million young adults in the decade that ended in 2010. But they lost a net 1.4 million children and family-age adults (aged 30-49). Their suburbs gained a net 3.9 million people in the same age groups. Suburbs attracted people in every age group except 20-to-24-year-olds.
Whether the Millennials - the generation of people born beginning around 1982 - make a U-turn to suburbia when they have kids is still in question, according to co-author Richelle Winkler, sociology and demography professor at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Mich.
"Certainly, the historical pattern has been for people to leave ... There could be something different about the Millennial generation," she says.
So far, the needle hasn't moved.
Chicago's Cook County attracted three times as many young adults from 2000 to 2010 as in previous decades but "we're still seeing that pattern of net outmigration by the time people get to their 30s," Winkler says.
Every year, about 10 million Americans move from one county to another and up-and-down economic cycles are also affecting migration.
• Large Northeastern and Midwestern metro areas are losing older Americans while counties in the Ozarks, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Arizona and Florida that are centers of outdoor recreation are gaining older and working-age people. Retirees spike the need for more services, from health care and restaurants to theaters and service stations.
• Young Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites have the highest rate of moving to cities at the heart of metro areas.
• Blacks of every age are leaving large urban centers. At the same time, blacks of every age are moving into suburban counties.
• Some oil-rich North Dakota counties such as McKenzie are experiencing an influx of young adults and families after decades of seeing them leave.
"This illustrates the growing diversity of large metropolitan areas," says Johnson, demographer at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute.