US migration patterns revealed

Inman News

The real word from United Van Lines’ Movers Study.

United Van Lines just published its 45th National Movers Study. It indicates that Americans have been moving to lower-density areas and to areas that are closer to their families. Vermont is the state with the highest percentage of inbound migration with 74 percent, according to the study. Topping the list of outbound locations was New Jersey at 71 percent.

The study’s interactive map includes reasons for moving plus demographic information and provides prior year data to compare trends. Byron recommended looking ahead to inventory levels in 2030 for markets that are currently filled with baby boomers and retirees that may see population shifts over the next 10 years.

United Van Lines 45thAnnual National Movers Study Reveals The Top States People Moved To and From

The Pandemic Continued to Influence Americans’ Decisions to Move as They Relocated to Lower-Density Areas and Desired to be Closer to Family

Click Here to View Interactive Map

Interactive Map: To understand inbound and outbound percentages for each state, use the legend. To view reasons for moving and demographic data, select the year and state that you would like to view using the dropdown menus. (If you are using a desktop computer, you can use your mouse to click and select a state.) Please note that percentages pertaining to demographic data may not always total 100% due to respondents having the ability to opt out of answering survey questions and/or to select more than one survey response per question.

ST. LOUIS – Jan. 3, 2022 – United Van Lines released the company’s 45th Annual National Movers Study today, which indicates Americans were on the move to lower-density areas and to be closer to their families throughout last year.

The annual study, which tracks the company’s exclusive data for customers’ state-to-state migration patterns, determined Vermont as the state with the highest percentage of inbound migration (74%) with United Van Lines. Topping the list of outbound locations was New Jersey (71%), which has held the spot for the past four years.

South Dakota (69%), South Carolina (63%), West Virginia (63%) and Florida (62%) were also revealed as the top inbound states for 2021. Meanwhile, states like Illinois (67%), New York (63%), Connecticut (60%) and California (59%), which have regularly appeared on the top outbound list in recent years, again ranked among states with the largest exoduses.

In addition to the state-by-state data, each year United Van Lines also conducts an accompanying survey to examine the motivations and influences for Americans’ interstate moves. This year’s survey results indicated 31.8% of Americans who moved did so in order to be closer to family – a new trend coming out of the pandemic as priorities and lifestyle choices shift. Additionally, 32.5% of Americans moved for a new job or job transfer, a significant decrease from 2015, when more than 60% of Americans cited a job or transfer.

“This new data from United Van Lines is indicative of COVID-19’s impact on domestic migration patterns, with 2021 bringing an acceleration of moves to smaller, midsized towns and cities,” Michael A. Stoll, economist and professor in the Department of Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, said. “We’re seeing this not only occur because of Americans’ desire to leave high density areas due to risk of infection, but also due to the transformation of how we’re able to work, with more flexibility to work remote.”

What’s more, amid the pandemic, many Gen Xers are retiring (often at a younger age than past generations), joining the Baby Boomer generation. While many are retiring to states like Florida, United Van Lines’ data reveals they’re not necessarily heading to heavily populated cities like Orlando and Miami — they’re venturing to less dense places like Punta Gorda (81% inbound), Sarasota (79% inbound) and Fort Myers-Cape Coral (77% inbound). Similarly, in Oregon, cities including Medford-Ashland (83%) and Eugene-Springfield (79%) saw high inbound migration in 2021.

“For 45 years now, our annual United Van Lines study, with its data-driven insights, has allowed us to explore a deeper understanding of Americans’ overall migration patterns,” Eily Cummings, director of corporate communications at United Van Lines, said. “As the pandemic continues to impact our day-to-day, we’re seeing that lifestyle changes — including the increased ability to work from home — and wanting to be closer to family are key factors in why Americans are moving today.”

Moving In

The top inbound states of 2021 were:

  1. Vermont
  2. South Dakota
  3. South Carolina
  4. West Virginia
  5. Florida
  6. Alabama
  7. Tennessee
  8. Oregon
  9. Idaho
  10. Rhode Island

Of the top ten inbound states, six — Vermont, South Dakota, West Virginia, Alabama, Oregon and Idaho — are among the 20 least densely populated states in America, with less than 100 people per square mile. And, Tennessee and South Carolina are among the top 25.

Moving Out

The top outbound states for 2021 were:

  1. New Jersey
  2. Illinois
  3. New York
  4. Connecticut
  5. California
  6. Michigan
  7. Massachusetts
  8. Louisiana
  9. Ohio
  10. Nebraska


Several states saw nearly the same number of residents moving inbound as outbound.

Kentucky and Wyoming are among these “balanced states.”

Since 1977, United Van Lines annually tracks migration patterns on a state-by-state basis. The 2021 study is based on household moves handled by United within the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C. and ranks states based off the inbound and outbound percentages of total moves in each state. United classifies states as “high inbound” if 55 percent or more of the moves are going into a state, “high outbound” if 55 percent or more moves were coming out of a state or “balanced” if the difference between inbound and outbound is negligible.

Insights on Migration Trends

Data Illustrates More Moved to be Closer to Family in 2021

From education to employment and entertainment, the pandemic caused us to rethink virtually every aspect of daily life. Priorities shifted. Consumer expectations got rejiggered. How time was spent — and with whom — evolved.  

So, it’s no wonder United Van Lines 2021 Annual National Movers Study — as well as its companion survey about motivational drivers — revealed some interesting trends. For one thing, there was a notable decline in those who moved for a new job or job transfer (34.6%, down from 41.7% in 2020, 49.2% in 2019, 51.4% in 2018 and 60.1% in 2015). That is down more than 25 points from 2015. 

On the flipside, the overall number of people who moved to be closer to family — 34.5% — took the number two slot among the reasons all people, regardless of demographic, moved. That’s been on the rise for quite some time: 27.5% in 2020 compared to 25.2% in 2019, 23.2% in 2019, 23.2% in 2018 and just 18.9% in 2015. 

Reasons For Moving Over Time Average All States

Reasons for Moving20212020201920182015
Job / Transfer34.6%41.7%51.4%51.4%60.1%
Closer to Family34.5%27.5%23.2%23.2%18.9%
Cost of Living6.7%3%N/AN/AN/A

And while 17.5% cited COVID-19 as a contributor to decision-making in August 2020, just 11% of 1,412 respondents in October 2021 and 9.1% in November 2021. Where exactly did they move for familial reasons?  

Let’s dig deeper. 

Reasons for Moving to All States by Demographic in 2021

Reasons for Moving18-3435-4445-5455-6465+
Job / Transfer77.9%65.1%50.2%21.5%2.5%
Closer to Family16.1%18.6%23.2%31.2%49.3%
Cost of Living4.4%7.9%7.7%9.3%6.4%

When broken down by age, job transfers and new jobs still outweigh all other reasons for relocating among the three youngest demographics. Meanwhile, moving to be closer to loved ones snagged the second place slot among ages 18-34, 35-44 and 45-54. Yet, among those 55-64 (31.5%) and 65-plus (49.3%), it became the primary reason.  

Naturally, job relocations tend to be led by external forces — better pay, a chance to climb the proverbial ladder or an organization moving its headquarters, for example. By contrast, being closer to family and friends is more internal — more emotionally triggered — and it sees a steady incline as people age, whether it’s due to needing help, the birth of a grandchild, or a desire to live in warmer climes with chill vibes. 

So, how much has that changed, depending on age, over time? 

The percentage of customers who moved to be closer to family and friends in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, were as follows: 11.5% (18-34,) 17.5% (35-44), 18.5% (45-54), 28.7% (55-64) and 46.5% (65-plus). That was a notable increase among every demographic in 2021 and a significantly higher number than back in 2015, when 8.3% (18-34), 9.8% (35-44), 13.6% (45-54), 23.9% (55-64) and 42.5% (65-plus) moved closer to those near and dear.  

So, yes, we increasingly value time with family as we age — and never more than in the last two years. However, sibling rivalry may have kicked in, reducing the numbers from when that pandemic first hit.  

Fewer People Moved for Work in 2021, Signaling a Shift in Priorities

The “Great Resignation.” Most everyone has heard about it by now. The premise? That the pandemic caused many to rethink what matters in life, and to act — and, in some cases, move — accordingly. 

What’s happening nationwide is food for thought, for sure. It is, however, more nuanced than catch phrases may lead you to believe. United Van Lines 2021 Annual National Movers Study — as well as its companion survey about motivational drivers — revealed some interesting trends. For one thing, there was a notable decline in those who moved for a new job or job transfer (34.6%, down from 41.7% in 2020, 49.2% in 2019, 51.4% in 2018 and 60.1% in 2015). That is down more than 25 points from 2015.  

Moves due to job change or transfer over time averaging all states

Moves due to job change or transfer by demographic in 2021

So, what gives? Let’s dig deeper. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, month after month, there were more “quits” in 2021 than ever before. Its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary reports that approximately 11 million jobs were available in the U.S in November – and just 6.9 million people looking. Meanwhile, many employers are paying more and providing better benefits just to attract candidates.  

The Atlantic suggests these resignations mostly apply to low-wage workers who have moved on to better jobs in better-paying industries. Author Derek Thompson equates what’s happening to a “job hop,” likening the low-wage, service-sector economy to a sports league-like “free agency.”  

Those working in higher-paying industries, on the other hand, have found more flexibility in not just how, but also where, they work.  

As noted in our Annual National Movers Study, moving for lifestyle reasons — be it balmier weather, an oceanside setting or mountain view — is on the rise. In 2015, just 9.5% of those who moved with us reported doing so for a better lifestyle. That number leapt to 12.1% in 2018 and has been rising ever since. At the start of the pandemic, 13% of respondents cited lifestyle as the primary reason for their moves. Now that number sits at 14.4%, further signaling a shift in priorities. 

But what does this have to do with the state of work? According to GoodHire, whose survey, The State of the Remote Workforce in 2021, notes: 

  • 68% of Americans prefer remote work over in-office work 
  • 45% of Americans would rather quit their job or immediately seek remote work if required to return to their office full-time 
  • More than 25% of respondents specifically said they’d quit if a return-to-the-office policy was enlisted 
  • 85% of Americans prefer to apply for jobs that offer remote flexibility and just 15% would apply for a role requiring full-time, onsite work. 

Now, layer in the top states with inbound moves through United Van Lines and the plot thickens — unilaterally, destinations taking the top slots are outdoorsy locales — cities with or near notable outdoor recreation; warm weather towns; or cities near the ocean, in the desert or in the mountains.  

Top Inbound Cities in 2021 

  • Medford/Ashland, OR (83%)
  • Punta Gorda, FL (81%) 
  • Wilmington, NC (80%) 
  • Eugene-Springfield, OR (79%) 
  • Sarasota, FL (79%) 
  • Sioux Falls, SD (78%)
  • Fort Meyers, FL (77%) 
  • Myrtle Beach, SC (76%) 
  • Santa Fe, NM (76%) 
  • Bellingham, WA (72%)

At the end of the day, it’s clear the pandemic gave workers a better sense of their worth, solidified the importance of work/life balance and proved an alternate work model can not only work, but also gives them the quality of life they have come to expect, in a setting they prefer. 

Where – and Why – did Retirees Move in 2021?

You’ve had a long (and hopefully successful) career, seen the loved ones around you grow up and leave the nest and now it’s time to prepare for that next big journey — life after work. 

So where are retirees finding home today? The stats may surprise you. United Van Lines 2021 Annual National Movers Study revealed that almost 20% named retirement as a reason to move – a percentage that has been trending up since 2015 (13%). cites an estimate by St. Louis Federal Reserve economist Miguel Faria-e-Castro that the pandemic forced up to 3 million Americans to retire earlier than planned, while the Pew Research Center found that the percentage of people 55 and over who have retired is now at an all-time high of 50%. United Movers Study also backs that data up with their own numbers illustrating 54% of movers are over the age of 55. 

That’s a lot of retirees. So, where are they going? The overall trend uncovered in the United Movers Study reveals that they are leaving big population centers for warmer climates, smaller cities and towns and a lower cost of living. For example, 77% of those nearing retirement age in New Jersey plan to move out of the state, a full 23% of them to the state of Florida.  

Top Inbound Retirement States

  1. Florida (39%)
  2. South Carolina (37%)
  3. Arizona (36%)
  4. Delaware (34%)
  5. Idaho (29%)
  6. Nevada (29%)
  7. Wyoming (28%)
  8. Mississippi (28%)
  9. New Mexico (27%)
  10. Maine (27%)

Top Outbound Retirement States

  1. Rhode Island (38%)
  2. New Jersey (36%)
  3. Connecticut (33%)
  4. Wyoming (30%)
  5. New York (29%)
  6. Illinois (29%)
  7. Ohio (28%)
  8. Maryland (28%)
  9. Michigan (27%)
  10. Maine (26%)

While it’s really no surprise that Florida, the Carolinas and Arizona are popular choices for retirees, it’s also significant that the Northeastern U.S is experiencing an unprecedented exodus of over 55’s. There is a clear migration pattern away from expensive real estate, higher taxes and crowds. For retirees, maintaining their standard of living means moving to where that’s possible.   

Recently, Forbes magazine looked at 800 American cities and towns — considering factors such as housing costs, taxes, healthcare, air quality and climate change and put together a list of the top 25 cities for retirees. No surprises here: cities in Florida, the Carolinas, and Arizona were consistently named among the best choices. But the overall go-to town for retirees? According to  CNN, it’s just outside of Orlando: The Villages, a retirement community in Sumter County, Florida.