There’s No Place Like Home—Unveiling 10 Stickiest States

Written By Walter Yuhl on May 22, 2024
Photo two bicyclists in Houston Texas park

Humans are nomadic by nature. Yet, in modern society, when it comes to leaving home, some people don’t venture too far from where they were raised. We became curious about the places people are from that make them most likely to stay. 

We set out to answer the question, “What makes a state sticky?” by examining what keeps people close to home. For our purposes, ‘sticky’ is the percentage of people born in a state who still live there as adults. 

With 82% of Texas residents not venturing too far from home, Texas is the stickiest state. However, the roots keeping people home run deeper than a warm climate and low taxes. 

Key Takeaways

  • Texas knows how to hold ‘em. Less than 20% of native-born Texans settle into a home outside the Lone Star State. 
  • Family matters. Despite popular theories about climate, economy, and taxes, research shows that family keeps more than half of people close to home. 
  • Stickiness is trending. Wyoming, the least sticky state, retains 45.3% of its native-born population.

To stay or not to stay, ranking the stickiest states

States vary considerably between those where people seem to stay forever and those where people seem eager to leave. What makes people more likely to stick around? We looked at climate, population density, economic opportunities, and family ties.

Stickiness should not be confused with magnet states, which refer to people who move from out-of-state and never leave. For example, only one in four people who live in Nevada were born in Nevada. This has more to do with the number of people attracted to Nevada and staying rather than those born in Nevada who are leaving. While this is also interesting, we did not factor this population into our stickiness assessment. 

Texas is, by far, the stickiest state. About 82% of people born in Texas stay, almost twice the rate of Wyoming, the least sticky state. In non-stick Wyoming, only 45.3% of folks born there stick around. 

10 stickiest states

According to the Census Bureau (see methodology below), the top ten states people are born in and stay as adults are:

State Local-born staying

  1. Texas: 82.2%
  2. North Carolina: 75.5%
  3. Georgia: 74.2%
  4. California: 73.0%
  5. Utah: 72.9%
  6. Florida: 72.7%
  7. Wisconsin: 72.5%
  8. South Carolina: 71.9%
  9. Alabama: 71.6%
  10. Michigan: 71.5%

10 least sticky states

On the opposite end, these states see almost half of their population move away:

State Local-born staying

  1. Wyoming: 45.3%
  2. North Dakota: 48.6%
  3. Alaska: 48.7%
  4. South Dakota: 54.2%
  5. Rhode Island: 55.2%
  6. West Virginia: 55.6%
  7. Vermont: 56.5%
  8. Delaware: 56.9%
  9. Kansas: 57.2%
  10. Hawaii: 58.0%

What makes a state sticky?

Two donut charts of PlayMichigan survey results about climate and cultureThere are many theories as to what makes a state stickier than others. Researchers and pundits tell us that sticky states are warmer, located in the South, and tend to be larger. 

Researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas claim that economic growth, low taxes, and cooperation in big cities keep residents in their home states.

But we’re not so sure. 

We discovered that people do not necessarily stay because of a warm climate, size, strong economies, or lower taxes. 

So we did our own research and found that family and familiarity are the key drivers that keep people in their home state or bring them back when they leave. 

<h3> Warm climate and Southern states

While most of the ten stickiest states are in the South and have warm climates (see methodology), Michigan, Utah, and Wisconsin are not warm or in the South. California, while warm, is not a Southern state. Plenty of states are warm or warmer, and in the South, yet are not sticky. 

Size

State size by area has little correlation with stickiness. Only sticky California, Michigan, Texas, and Utah are in the largest 15 states by area. 

However, six sticky states are in the largest 15 states by population. This means nine large states are not sticky, and four sticky states are not large. 

Of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., almost half are in the top 10 sticky states. The five stickiest states have 15 metropolitan areas exceeding 1 million people. The five least-sticky states have only one large metro area. Thus, the number of large cities in a state may be a reason for stickiness. 

Economic growth

Only five of the 20 largest state economies and the 15 fastest-growing states are in sticky states. Four of the 15 largest GDP growth states are in sticky states.

Taxes

We looked at the combined property, state, and sales tax, and overall individual tax burden. The best correlation was the lowest average tax burden, but only four of the sticky states were in the 15 lowest tax states. 

Regarding property tax, only three sticky states made it on the list of the least ten property tax states. Of the combined state and sales tax, only Michigan and Wisconsin were among the lowest ten states. 

The NBA

Since the published reasons for stickiness do not stick well, we looked at several random reasons. Of those we looked at, states with NBA teams had the best correlation to stickiness. Only 22 states and Washington D.C. have NBA teams. That’s about 43% of all the states, including Washington D.C., but a whopping 80% of the sticky states have NBA teams! 

Did we solve the sticky state mystery? Probably not, since correlation does not mean causation. 

But we do have a more likely explanation. 

Family and familiarity

Two donut charts of PlayMichigan survey results about family and community importanceWe surveyed 1,000 people living in their home state to find out what makes them want to stay or return if they left (see methodology below). 

Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed had never lived outside of their home state. Just over half, 56%, remain in the same city or town they were born.

For those who had never lived outside their home state, more than 67% cited family ties as the reason for staying. The cost of living came in a distant second, at just 14%.

Of the 34% who had left and then returned, more than half cited family reasons as the primary reason for coming home. A distant second reason fell in the closely related sense of home and belonging category. If we combine these two categories, a full 70% of respondents returned to their home states for family/home reasons.

Reason for returning Number of responses

  • Family reasons 177
  • Sense of Home and Belonging 54
  • Job or Economic Reasons 44
  • Other Reasons 21
  • Education Related 14
  • Climate or Natural Beauty 11
  • Military 8

When we asked directly about family connections, an overwhelming 80.6% said it was very or extremely important.  

Question

Very or Extremely

How strongly do your family connections influence your decision to stay in your birth state?

80.6%

Do you feel a strong sense of community where you live?

53%

How important are the local culture and recreational opportunities in your decision to stay in your birth state?

41.6%

To what extent do employment opportunities keep you in your birth state?

38.5%

How does the climate in your state influence your choice to stay in your birth state?

29.8%

Did the quality of education influence you to stay in your birth state?

26.2%

Was the cost of living a deciding factor in remaining or returning to your birth state?

24.3%

The data indicates that family and community/home are the driving forces for people to stick in their home state. Secondly, culture and employment may be the reason some states are more sticky than others. 

 

Two donut charts of PlayMichigan survey results about job opportunities and affordability

According to Gallup News, 90% of the top ten sticky states have a predominantly conservative culture. Only California fell in the category of ‘Less conservative than average.’ Thus, sticky states are conservative states. However,15 of the 19 ‘Highly conservative’ states are not in the top ten of sticky states. While 38% of the 50 states are highly conservative, only 21% of the ten top sticky states are highly conservative.

Highly conservative sticky states:

  • Alabama
  • Georgia
  • South Carolina

Sticky states that are more conservative than average:

  • Florida
  • Michigan
  • North Carolina
  • Texas
  • Wisconsin

Then we looked for a connection between family ties and cultural leanings and found no correlations. No sticky states were among CNBC’s ‘10 best U.S. states to raise a family.’

Unemployment

Next, we considered unemployment. We looked at the monthly 10-year average unemployment rate by state. Over that time, the average state unemployment rate was 4.5%. Six sticky states had higher unemployment rates, two were nominally average, and only two were below average. Thus, we did not find a correlation between low unemployment and the sticky states (see methodology). 

Given the numerous variables we looked at, it is clear family is the main reason people stay in their home state. The more large cities in a state, the stickier it is. Beyond that (and the NBA), it is unclear why some states are stickier than others. 

States becoming stickier

What makes a particular state sticky remains sticky, but we know that the trend is toward sticker states.

Overall, adults in the U.S. are moving less. Most adults live just 18 miles from their mom. In 2009, Alaska was the least sticky state. Only 28% of its native-born residents remained in the state. That’s 17% less sticky than Wyoming, today’s least sticky state, where only 45% of its residents stay in-state.

Texas, consistently the most sticky state, has increased its stickiness from about 75% in 2009 to 82% today.

Matt Schoch, the brand content manager for Legal Sports Report, sums it up nicely, 

“The main reason I came home after nearly a decade was for family and friends, but there’s so much more. Almost everyone has pride about where they’re from, but we take it to another level in Michigan. We have four seasons, four pro sports teams, big cities, and picturesque places in nature to truly go off the grid. It’s affordable, and people here generally find it easy to get along with. 

“For context, I grew up here, went to college here (at Central Michigan), started my career here, moved out of state for 9 years (Missouri, Virgin Islands, Chicago), then returned to MI in 2018.” 

Methodology

The data to rank each state in every category wasn’t consistently accessible for each state. For several categories, only the highest and lowest-scoring states were available.  Therefore only the top 10 most and least sticky states are included. 

Identifying sticky states

The most (and least) ‘sticky’ states are based on an analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey as published on the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas’ website.  ‘Stickiness’ was determined by calculating the share of people born in each state who still lived there as of 2021.

Climate

State climate data was evaluated by comparing the top 10 sticky states with the 16 states with the most livable climates.

Survey

We surveyed 1,000 people between the ages 25 and over 54 who currently live in the state in which they were born. Respondents were nominally equally represented by age group: 25 – 34 (25.3%), 35 – 44 (29.6%), 45 – 54 (20.6%), > 54 (24.5%). A majority were female, 54.5%, male 45.5%. 

Those who responded that they had never lived out of their home state had a choice of 39 options as to why they remained. Respondents choose only 6 of the options: 

  • Family ties
  • Job opportunities
  • Cost of living
  • Educational opportunities
  • Local culture
  • Other

Those who responded that they had moved from and returned to their home state provided their own reason for returning. The responses were placed into 8 categories with the help of AI with human oversight. 

  • Family reasons
  • Sense of Home and Belonging
  • Job or Career Opportunities
  • Economic Reasons 
  • Other Reasons 
  • Education Related 
  • Climate or Natural Beauty 
  • Military 

The category Job or Career Opportunities was combined with Economics Reasons.

An additional seven questions asked respondents to evaluate the significance of staying in-state by responding to the importance of each statement as: 

  • Not at all 
  • Rarely 
  • Sometimes 
  • Often 
  • Always

Or 

  • Not at all 
  • A little 
  • Moderately 
  • Strongly 
  • Extremely

Unemployment rates

We used the Bureau of Labor Statistics data of monthly unemployment rates seasonally adjusted by state. We averaged each state’s unemployment rate and compared the 10 sticky states’ averages. 

California, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, Florida, and Georgia fell above the average unemployment rate. Alabama and South Carolina were within two-tenths and three-tenths of a percent of the average, respectively. Wisconsin and Utah had a below-average unemployment rate. 

Sources

Forbes 

Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Guardian

USNews.com 

Gallup News 

Current Results 

Pew Research Center 

Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas 

Fair Use

When using this data and research, please attribute by linking to this article or sharing our graphic and citing PlayMichigan.

Remember, PlayMichigan is your source for breaking news about the regulated Michigan online gambling market.

Photo by Feature Image via Shutterstock
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Walter Yuhl

Walter (Way) Yuhl is a freelance writer and business professor. Way has written for the Arizona Daily Sun, Flagstaff Business News, Bangkok University, and Shandong University of Science and Technology as well as edited content for the U.N., Thailand International airports, and other organizations. He has worked with Cantena Media since 2019.

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