NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – New research from Vanderbilt University showed the COVID-19 pandemic was impacting where people decided to move their families.
Researchers said that typically the choice of where to live was a big economic and social decision based on factors like labor markets, schools, housing costs and access to amenities.
They looked at years of data from more than 300,000 inter-state moves within the United States to find out how and why the nature of relocation decisions has changed since the pandemic.
They found a significant percentage of people were moving from larger cities to smaller cities with lower costs of living, and some of the findings were surprising.
“What stood out to me was how little the infection rate in a city impacted the decision to move to or from there,” said Peter Haslag, assistant professor of finance at Vanderbilt University who worked on the research with Daniel Weagley from Georgia Institute of Technology. “We found that it was other COVID-related factors, including regulations and the ability to work remotely, that had a greater impact on migration decisions.”
He added some people also factored in how much public health regulation a city implemented during the pandemic.
“What we saw was that people were leaving big cities – the bigger cities tended to have more stringent regulations,” he explained. “I think 5 percent of people were saying that ‘this is too much – we can’t go outside, we can’t enjoy things so we’re going to move.’ It’s a very costly thing to do for something that should be seen as temporary, but I think a lot of people saw it as kind of the last straw in a political system that they weren’t comfortable with. If we isolate the people that had some issue with the restrictions, they tend to be moving out of Democratic states.”
The research also revealed a correlation between how much money a family earns and their reason for moving during the pandemic.
“This was a real disparity between high-income households and low-income households. High-income households, given that high-income jobs were more tilted towards remote work, they’re able to detach the relationship between their job and their location, and once you do that it allows people to go optimize over a bunch of different factors that they couldn’t before when jobs and locations were tied together,” Haslag explained. “We found higher-income households are moving much less for changes necessitated from work (such as job loss or taking a new job) and much more for non-work related reasons. In contrast, lower-income households typically moved for job-related reasons at a similar rate to pre-pandemic levels and were less likely to move for reasons such as retirement, health or lifestyle.”
The ability to work remotely was another factor that emerged during the pandemic and researchers are trying to understand how long the mentality will stick around.
“The fact that ‘now I can work from home’ has some impact ‘if I need to be closer to family to have additional support or social bubbles,'” said Haslag. “All the survey evidence showed there’s more and more people that want to have that flexibility and so what we’ve seen within a city is people are moving out to the suburbs to get more space so they don’t have to go in as much.”