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Resources for Addressing "Brain Drain" from Rural Communities

Information on rural youth migration and retention, with thanks to Steve Deller, Professor of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin, for highlighting the need for such information to be compiled in one place.

Research Papers

Will They Stay or Will They Go? Community Features Important in Migration Decisions of Recent University Graduates

  • Published in Economic Development Quarterly, February 2015
  • Authors: Ann Marie Fiore, Linda S. Niehm, Jessica L. Hurst, Jihyeong Son, Amrut Sadachar, Daniel W. Russell, David Swenson, and Christopher Seeger
  • Abstract: Rural regions of the United States have experienced detrimental out-migration, or brain drain, of college-educated individuals. The present study used survey data, gathered with an interactive website tool containing a comprehensive collection of economic and lifestyle features, to determine those most important in migration decisions for public university graduating seniors from the rural state of Iowa. Economic features (overall cost of living and a strong local economy) were ranked as the top features, followed by lifestyle features including two surprising features (access to basic consumer goods and access to health facilities). The impact of individual differences on the likelihood of moving and the selection of desired community features was also examined and proved to be statistically significant. For instance, in comparison with female graduates, male graduates selected educational level of residents and higher percentage of nonmarried residents features more frequently. Implications for policy development and marketing and economic development strategies are discussed.

Returning Home and Making a Living: Employment Strategies of Returning Migrants to Rural U.S. Communities (PDF)

  • Published in the Journal of Rural and Community Development, 2011
  • Authors: Christiane von Reichert, John B. Cromartie, Ryan O. Arthun
  • Abstract: This research focuses on return migration to rural areas in the United States and documents strategies that return migrants use for securing employment. Rural labor markets, due to their small size, limited diversity, and lower wage scale, can be challenging for people looking to make a living. To understand how these labor market constraints affect rural return migration, we draw on over 300 semi-structured interviews with stayers, outmigrants and return migrants. Conversations, conducted at 10- to 30-year high school reunions in geographically isolated rural U.S. communities, affirm the well-known challenges and significant barriers to employment in small towns. However, additional interviews with community and business leaders also document employers’ difficulties in filling skilled work positions. Return migrants take on jobs both in the public and private sector, but quite a few carve niches through self-employment, mostly in service sectors. We also encountered a small number of return migrants who started internet-based businesses or otherwise worked remotely. A reoccurring theme highlights how return migrants accept career sacrifices in order to raise their children in a familiar, small-town environment. We conclude that return migrants can be a boost to the economic and social vitality of rural communities and that communities should make efforts to both attract and retain them.

Baby Boom Migration and Its Impact on Rural America

  • Economic Research Report No. (ERR-79) 36 pp, August 2009
  • Authors: John Cromartie and Peter Nelson
  • Abstract: Members of the baby boom cohort, now 45-63 years old, are approaching a period in their lives when moves to rural and small-town destinations increase. An analysis of age-specific, net migration during the 1990s reveals extensive shifts in migration patterns as Americans move through different life-cycle stages. Assuming similar age patterns of migration, this report identifies the types of nonmetropolitan counties that are likely to experience the greatest surge in baby boom migration during 2000-20 and projects the likely impact on the size and distribution of retirement-age populations in destination counties. The analysis finds a significant increase in the propensity to migrate to nonmetro counties as people reach their fifties and sixties and projects a shift in migration among boomers toward more isolated settings, especially those with high natural and urban amenities and lower housing costs. If baby boomers follow past migration patterns, the nonmetro population age 55-75 will increase by 30 percent between now and 2020.

Consumption Amenities and City Population Density

  • Published in Regional Science and Urban Economics, Vol. 38, no. 6, Nov 2008, pp. 533-552
  • Author: Jordan Rappaport
  • Abstract: Population density varies widely among U.S. metro areas. A simple, static general equilibrium model demonstrates that moderate differences in metro areas' consumption amenities can cause extremely large differences in their population density. Such amenities are more strongly capitalized into housing prices than into wages. Empirical results suggest that amenities do indeed help support high density levels and that amenities are becoming a more important determinant of where people choose to live. Matching the empirical correlation between wages and density requires that amenities cause approximately one fifth of the cross-sectional variation in metro population density.

Youth Out-Migration from Pennsylvania: The Roles of Government Fragmentation vs. the Beaten Path Effect (PDF)

  • Published in the Journal of Regional Analysis and Policy, May 2008
  • Authors: Georg Grassmueck, Stephan Goetz, and Martin Shields
  • Abstract: The authors of a recent Brookings report argue that Pennsylvania’s lackluster economic performance, including a high rate of loss of young residents (age 25-34), is partly due to fragmented local units of government hindering comprehensive and regional approaches to stimulating economic growth. This assertion is based on casual inference rather than rigorous statistical analysis. In the present study we employ a newly developed measure of state/county government fragmentation in a county-level econometric migration model to test the Brookings assertion formally. After examining and controlling for the complete set of factors identified from previous studies to motivate youth out-migration, we conclude that government fragmentation acts to keep youth in Pennsylvania rather than drive them out. We conclude that calls for consolidating sub-county government units based on young migration are premature and offer a number of explanations for our finding along with policy implications.

Moving to Nice Weather

  • Published in Regional Science and Urban Economics, Vol. 37, no. 3, May 2007, pp. 375-398
  • Author: Jordan Rappaport 
  • Abstract: U.S. residents have been moving en masse to places with nice weather. Well known is the migration towards places with warm winters, which is often attributed to the introduction of air conditioning. But people have also been moving to places with cooler, less-humid summers, which is the opposite of what is expected from the introduction of air conditioning. Nor can the movement to nice weather be primarily explained by shifting industrial composition or by migration of the elderly. Instead, a large portion of weather-related movement appears to be driven by an increased valuation of nice weather as a consumption amenity, probably due to broad-based rising per capita income.

Online Resources

Net Migration Chart from USDA's Economic Research Service

This story appeared in the Daily Yonder, offering analysis of and links to the USDA ERS net migration data released in April 2015.

Brain Gain in Rural Minnesota

  • University of Minnesota Extension's demographic research, publications, and perspectives on "brain gain."

Net Migration Patterns for U.S. Counties (maps)

  • Maps, charts, and data from the University of Wisconsin

Next Generation: Attracting and Retaining Young People

  • Resources from University of Wisconsin Extension 

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