One of my friends recently suggested a Curious Calico topic right up my alley – what state has the highest percentage of people who never leave the state (including for vacation)? She thought some place like Kansas, that has smaller, more rural towns and (maybe) more people that just don’t have an interest to travel outside the state. Her husband chimed in with Texas because it’s so big that it takes more effort to get out. (And in defense of Texas, I’ll add that there are quite a few things to do inside the state as well.)
Sadly, my Google searches uncovered no hidden treasures for this one. A similar question on a City-Data Forum garnered votes for Florida (“whose residents think they’re already in paradise”), Hawaii and Alaska (“sheer distance”) and Nebraska and Iowa (which are “so boring you’d think they’d want to get out more…yet on the flipside they’re also a bit homely and less likely to want to [leave] their backyard”).
Opinion rich, but data poor. So I settled for a slight detour from the original question and went in search of whatever data I could dig up. Compliments of the U.S. Census Bureau 2005-2009 American Community Survey (ACS), that question turned out to be… which state has the highest percentage of people who still live in the same state in which they were born?
The Travis County Health & Human Services Research & Planning Division publishes an annual snapshot based on the ACS, which indicates that 53% of Travis County residents were born in Texas, compared with 61% of Texans and 59% of Americans born in their state of residence.
As it turns out, Louisiana tops the nation for the greatest proportion of native-born residents (79%), followed by Michigan (76%). Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Alabama round out the top 10.
Are these folks so happy with their home states that they just want to stay put? Gallup doesn’t seem to think so. Its recently-released well-being index found that West Virginians were the least happy, followed by those in Kentucky and Mississippi. Louisiana and Michigan scooch in at #s 9 and 10 for the least happy states. Does that list look familiar?
So who’s happiest? Hawaiians. Even more than 2,000 miles from the closest state, Hawaii ranks lower than the national average for the portion of its population (54%) born there. Looks like a few mainlanders are joining them in their state of bliss. And new arrivals in Alaska, Wyoming, and Colorado – all famously beautiful locations with fewer than 45% of native-born residents – can also count themselves among the top 5 happiest states.
In contrast, the top 3 states with the lowest portion of native-born residents – Nevada (23%), Florida (34%), and Arizona (36%) – include popular retiree destinations and the greatest projected population growth between 2000 and 2030. But they’re nowhere to be seen on the happy states list. Maybe it’s time to be leaving Las Vegas.