Staying Put

THE map above highlights the counties in America where a larger than average proportion of people have lived in the same house for thirty years or more—a reliable marker for a variety of other demographic factors. At the most basic level, the proportion of thirty-year residents reflects the varying ages of the country’s housing stock. As the New York Times reporter Sam Roberts noted in his book Who We Are: A Portrait of America (1993), about a third of all U.S. houses and apartments are less than twenty years old, and about a fifth are less than ten years old. In Nevada only three percent of all occupied dwellings were built before the Second World War; in Massachusetts the figure is 39 percent. The median age of U.S. dwellings overall, approximately twenty-six years, is lower than the median age of all Americans (about thirty-three years).

In the regions of the country where there is an ample supply of older dwellings, a concentration of thirty-year residents in a community would seem to suggest social stability. In many cases it points to the opposite. The high proportion of thirtyyear residents in the North Central states is a direct result of weak employment prospects: large numbers of young adults have moved away from small towns in search of jobs in metropolitan areas, leaving a core of older residents. In the same paradoxical way, the departure of the young accounts for the clustering of long-term residents in the povertystricken areas of Appalachia and the Mississippi River delta.

One might expect that Texas, which absorbs more immigrants from Mexico than any other state except California, would have few residents who have stayed in one house for a generation. Yet Texas shows many highlighted counties not in spite of but probably because of the presence of Mexican-Americans. Like Catholics of other backgrounds, Mexican-Americans have a relatively low divorce rate, which is of course a major factor in keeping families in one place. Southern Utah, too, with its large Mormon population, has a low divorce rate and therefore a high proportion of thirty-year residents. —by Rodger Doyle Proportion of residents who have not moved for the past thirty years Less than 12 percent 12 to 15.9 percent 16 percent or more Source: U. S. Census Bureau