Nearly half of Americans (48%) would choose to live in a town or a rural area rather than a city or suburb, up from 39% in 2018. Those who already live in towns or rural areas are also by far the most likely to say they’re content with where they are. (Gallup)
NH: Fully 48% of Americans at the end of 2020 said that, if they could live anywhere they wanted, they would choose a town or rural area. A quarter (25%) chose a suburb, and 27% chose a city.
Two years ago, the shares favoring towns, suburbs, and cities were 39%, 31%, and 29%, respectively. Country living has gained favor, mostly at the suburbs’ expense.
Gallup has asked this question three times: in December 2020, in November 2018, and in October 2001.
The increased preference for country living closely mirrors the results of the 2001 survey, which was also taken at a time of national shock. That was shortly after 9/11, and many Americans were afraid of further acts of terrorism in densely populated places. Now these places are seen as vectors for Covid-19. (See “What Happens to America’s Biggest Cities After a Pandemic?”)
In 2018, the majority of Americans living in each type of area said that they were happy with where they were. Now, however, town/rural residents are much more likely to be content. Fully 75% of town/rural residents are happy with where they live, which falls to 48% among suburban residents and 47% among city residents.
Are we in for a mass exodus to the heartland? A new report from Kiplinger and Personal Capital found that some older Americans are already moving. The report, which surveyed Americans ages 40 to 74, said that 26% of respondents have moved or plan to move as a result of the pandemic.
The most popular reasons were “less population density” (29%) and “more space to work from home” (around 21%). We’ve also seen plenty of anecdotal reports of families ditching the city for the suburbs or rural areas, drawn by the promise of more space for less money.
In the past, the main obstacles to country living were commuting and a lack of good schools. But with the rise of telework and online learning, more people may be able to make it work. To be sure, the dream of rural living is going to remain just that--a dream--for many people.
Country living’s appeal has increased the most for nonwhite Americans (up 12 percentage points since 2018) and 18- to 34-year-olds (up 10 percentage points), but those who have the best shot at actually moving are affluent urban professionals and retirees.
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ABOUT NEIL HOWE
Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.
A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.
Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."
Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.
Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.
Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.