April 2019

IZA DP No. 12271: Understanding Migration Aversion Using Elicited Counterfactual Choice Probabilities

accepted in: Journal of Econometrics, 2020

Residential mobility rates in the U.S. have fallen considerably over the past three decades. The cause of the long-term decline remains largely unexplained. In this paper we investigate the relative importance of alternative drivers of residential mobility, including job opportunities, neighborhood and housing amenities, social networks and housing and moving costs, using data from two waves of the NY Fed's Survey of Consumer Expectations. Our hypothetical choice methodology elicits choice probabilities from which we recover the distribution of preferences for location and mobility attributes without concerns about omitted variables and selection biases that hamper analyses based on observed mobility choices alone. We estimate substantial heterogeneity in the willingness-to-pay (WTP) for location and housing amenities across different demographic groups, with income considerations, proximity to friends and family, neighbors' shared norms and social values, and monetary and psychological costs of moving being key drivers of migration and residential location choices. The estimates point to potentially important amplifying roles played by family, friends, and shared norms and values in the decline of residential mobility rates.