…was the question put to me by Elise, my friendly boss during an internship at a women’s rights organization in Manila, the Philippines a couple decades ago. “You all turn 18 and move across the country from your parents.” Elise herself, having married and then divorced a Spaniard, was happily living at her parents’ home in Manila along with her two young children who had ample caregivers in their grandmother and the abundant, cheap hired help that is standard for middle-class families in developing countries, leaving Elise free to campaign full-time for women’s rights. Meanwhile, I had flown the family coop as far as possible, from North Carolina to various parts of Asia, then eventually Seattle, then Chicago. Reared in the land of “westward ho,” a nation renowned for the geographic mobility of its citizens, I was just doing what seemed normal.
As I get older, though, I wonder why we all move around so much and I notice resistance to that trend. “Aging in place.” “Staycation.” “Boomerang children,” the latter being a derisive term for grown children who, shock and horror, live with their folks (in Italy they call it “mamoni“). Recently the New York Times published a piece by Todd G. Buchholz and Victoria Buchholz in which they noted, “The likelihood of 20-somethings moving to another state has dropped well over 40 percent since the 1980s, according to calculations based on Census Bureau data.” They labeled today’s young people “The Go-Nowhere Generation.”
But is staying put so bad? What is it with us Americans?