Why People Stay: The Impact of Community Context on Nonmigration in the USA

By Michael Irwin, Troy Blanchard, Charles Tolbert, Alfred Nucci, Thomas Lyson


Most prior research on US migration has relied on individual-level explanations of moving. In this study we build on this literature by examining the role of community structure upon individuals’ probabilities of not migrating between 1985 and 1990. Using the full 1990 Census sample long-form microdata, we re-allocate adult persons in 1990 to their 1985 counties of residence. Then, using county of origin macro-structural variables (derived from the Economic Census microdata) and individual characteristics (from Decennial Census microdata), we develop a two-level hierarchical linear model. In level 1, we construct a logistic equation modelling individual probabilities of nonmigration. In level 2, we model the additive contextual effects of origin community structure on these models and then we model interactive cross-level effects. The community factors fall into two categories : 1) economic conditions that comprise the usual aggregate “push“ factors, and 2) civic community factors that act to retain people in their communities. Results specify the relationship between community context and individual migration patterns and demonstrate effects of local economic structure and local civic structure on these individual behaviours. We find that, net of community economic factors and individual characteristics, civic attributes of communities are associated additively with a propensity to stay in place. Moreover, we find that certain community civic characteristics interact with personal and familial attributes to condition the effects of the individual characteristics on the likelihood of migration.

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