Which States Contribute the Most Domestic Migrants?

Migration is the major source of North Carolina’s population growth. What states send North Carolina the most migrants?

The Census Bureau releases annual estimates on domestic and international migration flows for residents of the United States and Puerto Rico. American Community Survey respondents provide details on their place of residence one year ago and the state in which they currently live. The top 10 highest contributing states for North Carolina’s in-migrants in 2016 were Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, New York, Georgia, California, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland.

This wide range of places raises the question: what is the main driving force behind one’s decision to relocate to a new state?

As the map below illustrates, geographic proximity unquestionably influences who moves to North Carolina: eight of the top ten states are located on the Atlantic coast. This phenomenon is consistent with one law of Ravenstein’s theory of human migration, which notes that the “majority of migrants move a short distance.” After ranking each state according to how many in-migrants it contributed in 2016, a noticeable pattern emerges. As the distance from North Carolina increases, fewer individuals from a state tend to move to North Carolina and the state’s ranking declines. Nevertheless, what might explain states like Texas or California?

Ravenstein’s theory also states that individuals who move longer distances typically relocate to areas with abundant economic opportunities. Several of North Carolina’s fastest-growing industries – banking and finance, biotech, and information technology – have played a major role in drawing outside talent to particular areas of the state. Counties within the Charlotte metro and the Research Triangle tend to have the largest percentages of non-native residents. These places may serve as a draw to individuals relocating from more distant states.

Finally, these rankings are not without inherent issues. Many of these states are smaller than North Carolina, so what may be a minor contribution to North Carolina’s population is a sizable portion of another’s. Similarly, two of our largest contributing states—California and Texas—are highly populous, meaning large numbers of migrants to North Carolina may be a relatively smaller proportion of the state’s population. North Carolina is the 11th most common destination for California movers and the 14th most common destination for Texas movers.

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