AMERICANS are more likely to stay put in their hometowns today than they were 20 years ago, according to a report released today by the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit educational organization in Washington.
During most of the 1950s and '60s, one-fifth of Americans changed their residence each year, according to the ``Americans on the Move'' report. By the beginning of the 1980s, about one-sixth of Americans moved annually.
The decline seen that decade has continued into the 1990s and researchers, who are wondering whether Americans are losing their ``get up and go'' way of life, are now calling it a ``trend toward staying put.''
``It's hard to say why people have decided to move around less than they used to,'' says Mary Kent, an editor and demographer at the Population Reference Bureau. ``Economic recessions, shrinking job markets, and the aging of the baby-boom generation are all part of the reason.''
Increased homeownership and more women in the work force have put the most serious damper on mobility, according to Patricia Gober, the report's author and a geography professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
``Today, a couple is less likely to move, since the move would disrupt both the man's and the woman's work,'' Ms. Gober says. ``And if a couple owns a house, the possibility of moving becomes even more distant.''
Mobility has been a trademark of American culture and has always been associated with improving one's way of life, Gober says.
The fact that it has declined may show that Americans are becoming more cautious and less willing to take risks when planning their future.
``In the United States, moving up has been synonymous with moving on,'' Gober says. ``High levels of mobility have traditionally been linked with an innate restlessness, thirst for change, drive for innovation, and dynamism in American culture.''
Modern society requires people to move around to attend schools, find jobs, raise families, and achieve their personal goals. Americans who have higher levels of education and earn more money are usually the ones who have made at least one long-distance move, Gober says.
``But we are seeing that people are settling for what they already have,'' Ms. Kent adds. ``In terms of economic opportunity, Americans are less willing to move around to achieve it.''
But the trend toward staying put has had its benefits, Gober says. ``Fewer communities break up, and people become more tied to their families and their hometowns,'' she says. ``Socially, the decline benefits society in the sense that, if people stay in one place, they are more likely to invest in their community.''
But, according to Gober, Americans, together with Canadians and Australians, still rate among the most-mobile populations. Between 1990 and 1991, 17 percent of Americans moved to a new home.
Despite its higher mobility rate, the US will continue to see a long-term decline in mobility, Gober predicts.
``Even though Americans are risk-takers, even though they have always sought out new opportunities, new places, new people, the forces working against mobility are too profound,'' Gober says.
Mobility rates are higher in the West and South than in the Northwest and Midwest, according to the report. Westerners are 80 percent more likely than Northeasterners to change their residence in any given year.
The percentage of Americans living in their state of birth runs from 80 percent or more in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and New York to less than 50 percent in states such as Arizona, New Hampshire, and Washington.