Cities Journal
City Life

More And More Young People Leave Small-Town America


Most young people who leave small towns to go to college never come back – and this has been happening for a long time.

One might have thought that technology would slow down the flow of people, especially millennials: Wi-Fi and telecommuting didn’t stop the demographic shift.  In fact, the number of millennials is growing in suburbs and cities at a fast pace – faster than ever, actually.

William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, says that the prognosis for small-town America doesn’t look good. Robert Lang, professor of urban growth and population dynamics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, explains that young people are in search of success.

“They continue a multigenerational pattern of young adults preferring more expensive urban areas over lower-cost rural ones because the lifestyles and opportunities in such places make the extra burden of cost worth it.”

A 20-something Brittany Shoot gives her point of view on the topic.

“We don’t all hail from small Midwestern towns, but most came from places where they felt limited — small town Maine, suburban west Texas, California’s Central Valley and the Inland Empire. It’s easy to find people who will sneeringly complain about how trapped they felt as teenagers.”

Small towns will have to work really hard in order to prevent further brain drain – if they don’t become appealing to young people, they shouldn’t expect millennials to stay.

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