Here’s how far Mainers live from their mothers, and what researchers think it says about us

The New York Times reported recently that Americans each live about 18 miles from his or her mother, and used data from a study funded by the National Institute on Aging to break those distances down by region.

The Times also cited a Federal Reserve Board report noting that in recent decades, Americans have become less and less geographically mobile, opting not to migrate far from their hometowns.

In their post, Times writers Quoctrung Bui and Claire Cain Miller explain:

“The data reveal a country of close-knit families, with members of multiple generations leaning on one another for financial and practical support. The trend will continue, social scientists say, as baby boomers need more care in old age, and the growing number of two-income families seek help with child care.

The United States offers less government help for caregiving than many other rich countries. Instead, extended families are providing it, whether they never moved apart, or moved back closer when the need arose.”

As you can see in the map above, the median distance between New Englanders and their mothers is 12 miles, the third shortest distance found in the nine regions illustrated — and roughly half the distance found in the majority of other regions.

So what do researchers say these distances tell us about economics and society?

Well, the Times writers acknowledged some of these numbers can be traced back to cultural norms — families have deep generational roots in the colonial Northeastern states, while the Midwest and West were settled over a long-running historical migration.

But there are some other factors as well:

“To some extent, people’s proximity to their parents is a reflection of opportunity: The biggest determinants of how far people venture from home are education and income,” the Times reported, in part. “Those with college and professional degrees are much more likely to live farther from their parents than those with a high school education. … Wealthier people can afford to pay for services like child and elder care, while low-income families are more likely to rely on nearby relatives.”

The newspaper notes a few other statistical correlations, too, such as that married people tend to live farther away from their mothers than single people, and that women are more likely to leave their hometowns than men.

Interestingly, the Times also cites a Pew Research Center study which found that 57 percent of Americans have never lived outside of their home state, and 37 percent have never moved away from their hometowns.

Featured main page photo for the BDN by Robert F. Bukaty.