Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology

Population Research Discovery Seminars

Rooted or Stuck? The Causes and Consequences of American Mobility Decline

Brad Foster, Department of Sociology, University of Washington

11/04/2016
12:30-1:30 PM PT
121 Raitt Hall

Annual mobility rates in the US have declined by half since 1950, but it’s not clear why. The emerging literature suggests that as-yet inexplicable immobility is indicative of increasing “rootedness” among Americans – a cultural attachment to place that’s both universal and voluntary. I assess this claim using data from the Current Population Survey and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and address two central questions. First, have expectations of mobility declined alongside actual mobility? Second, has the link between mobility expectations and actual mobility outcomes weakened over time? Results suggest that Americans are “stuck” rather than “rooted” in place – increasingly unable to move when they expect to do so. This pattern is consistent with the idea that social and economic shifts in the latter half of the 20th Century left Americans with fewer options for, and a marginalized ability to take advantage of, opportunity elsewhere. Moreover, because the weakening expectation-mobility link is particularly pronounced among African-Americans, mobility decline may exacerbate inequalities in residential mobility processes that are already deeply stratified by race.


Brad is a PhD Candidate in the Sociology Department of UW and a former funded CSDE fellow. His current research projects examine multiple facets of American mobility decline, but his research and teaching interests more broadly include social demography, urban/community sociology, race/ethnicity, inequality, and the role of context.