A moving experience
Moving isn’t just about packing boxes, changing mailing addresses and re-hanging pictures on new walls. Often, moving is a major—sometime jarring—emotional experience, associated with a significant life change, such as a new job, a new baby, a marriage or divorce, or a change in health or finances. Even after the move, nearly every aspect of life undergoes considerable adjustments. Few people understand that better than USU sociologist Eddy Berry.
“My family moved when I was an infant, again in first grade, and again in fifth grade,” said Berry. “And each time we moved, my life changed. I started at a new school; I had to make different friends; my father’s income and my mother’s ability to work also increased or decreased at each new location. Changing homes so many times while growing up had a tremendous impact on me, as it does with most people that move.”
Michael Toney also became attuned to the results of migration as a youngster growing up in the small mining town of Clear Creek, WV.
“While I was living there, lots of people were moving out of the area,” said Toney. “For those of us who stayed, we saw the community shrink and its economic circumstances change. When I got older, I wanted to know why that happened.”
Both Berry and Toney are answering their childhood questions. As researchers in the Department of Sociology, Social Work and Anthropology at USU, they have teamed up to study the causes and effects of migration on both individual and community levels.
“Migration studies are a subset of demography, which focuses on human population patterns—where people live, where they move to, when they have babies, when and how they die,” said Berry.
Berry and Toney study human moving patterns by examining previously collected population data from national surveys or census reports, or they collect their own data from public records such as utility hookups, gas bills, church records, or school enrollment figures. Using these indicators, they can understand who is moving, and maybe even why.
Sociologists know that people change homes for almost countless reasons, and that one person’s motivation to move will likely be much different from another’s. Berry and Toney have been working together to find some commonalities or trends among the moving patterns of different groups of people.
It has long been hypothesized, for instance, that people with similar education levels would have the same mobility, but previous research hasn’t found that to be the case. Berry and Toney discovered, however, that people with similar education levels, as well as pay disparities, such as highly educated people with low incomes, did move at a higher rate than other population groups.
“This suggests that people often move to find better opportunities elsewhere,” said Berry.
Berry and Toney also found that people in various minority groups—Hispanics and African Americans—move to new locations at significantly lower rates than Caucasians.
“This is an important finding because it suggests, not necessarily that minorities move less, but that they are moving to fewer new places,” said Toney.
“Throughout our research, we’ve discovered that predicting migration is a lot like predicting the weather,” said Toney. “It’s so interrelated with other factors, and it is always changing, making it very difficult to see future trends. There are always questions, and we can never hope to get it all figured out. Still, just like the weather, it’s a forecast that everybody wants to know.”
That is especially true in the West, where population growth is greatest in the country. As a member of the Utah Population Estimates Committee in the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, Toney is watching Utah population growth especially carefully, as the state gets closer to adding a fourth seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Utah’s population is rapidly increasing, and it will continue to do so for at least the next 30 years,” says Toney.
“Population growth affects many issues, including education, the economy, transportation, environment and water supply, and health care.”
Not only is growth in the West expanding towns and cities, but it is changing the type of people who live in them.
“Rural Utah is especially changing,” said Berry. “In the past, it has been primarily white and non-ethnic, although there are exceptions, such as Native Americans or Latinos or Samoan enclaves in different parts of Utah. But rural Utah is experiencing an increase in its Asian-American, its African-American, and particularly its Hispanic population.”
Berry said that government and business leaders want to know how these changes will effect the culture, workforce, and demand for public resources in their communities.
Berry, who has done extensive research on demographic changes in the rural West, has seen two important trends: the increased age of the population and growth in the number of Hispanics in the region.
“The aging of the West will have a significant, widespread impact,” said Berry. She noted that the large size and high voting rate of the elderly population segment could result in tension among other groups, as priorities may shift from education to healthcare, for example.
In contrast, the growth in Hispanic residents in the West may have the opposite effect. Because incoming Hispanic migrants are typically younger, they have more children and more need for resources needed by younger families. And that could mean a different strategy will be needed for leaders of communities with that type of growth.
“It’s extremely important for policy makers to know what’s going on with their community and state populations,” said Berry. “Knowing what groups are growing and which are shrinking can tell them whether they should be funding a new maternity ward or a retirement home.”
“There are only three things that are certain in life: birth, death, and moving around,” said Toney. “Moving around is the only one you really have any control over, and that really makes it worth examining.”