Activity 1: Moving On-Population Mobility in the United States


The people of the United States are very mobile. Between 2002 and 2003, more than 40 million U.S. residents moved, with young adults (20-29 year olds) having the highest moving rates—about one-third of all persons in the age group moved in 2003. This notwithstanding, the overall mobility rate for the country has declined since the mid-20th century.

Mobility rates at the state level are not uniform across the country. Some states have a high percentage of the population born within the state, while others have a high percentage born elsewhere.

Geographical Mobility, United States 1947-2003

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Part One: Which States Have the Most Mobile Populations (the Lowest Percentage of Residents Living in the Same State in Which They Were Born)?

Materials Needed

  • Handout 1. "State of Residence in 2000 by State of Birth" (PDF: 42KB)
  • Handout 2. Blank maps of the United States (PDF: 174KB)
  • Instructions on how to create a choropleth map (PDF: 35KB)
  • Colored Pencils


  1. Distribute copies of Handouts 1 and 2, and colored pencils.
  2. Have students construct a choropleth map of "Percent of Population Born in the State of Residence." Have them use the following ranges to sort the data: <50%; 50-70%; >70%. See the instructions on how to create choropleth maps, if necessary.

Part Two: Which States Have the Smallest Populations of Residents Born in the State?

Materials Needed


  1. Have students identify the five states with the smallest percentages of resident population born in the state. Divide the class into five groups and assign each group one of the states from this group. Give each group a second blank map of the United States (Handout 2) and instruct them to shade their assigned state a bold color.
  2. Direct students to the U.S. Census Bureau website page for "Geographic Mobility/Migration."
    • Have them open the report: "State of Residence in 2000 by State of Birth" either in PDF or Excel.
    • Have them locate their assigned state and then, working across the table, identify each state in which residents were born. Have them shade these states using a different color and label the number of residents born there. [Note: In the interests of time, the students could limit this activity to just the 10 states that sent the most migrants.]
    1. When all maps are complete, lead a discussion of the patterns revealed.
      • Why do these five states have the greatest number of residents born elsewhere?
      • What attracts people to these states? [pull factors]
      • Which states appear to be losing the largest numbers of residents?
      • Why might people be moving away from these states? [push factors]
      1. Locate the state in which you live.
        • Where does your state fall in terms of population mobility?
        • How many students in the class, or their parents, were born in another state? (If the students themselves do not have experiences to draw upon, encourage them to think of friends or relatives who have moved.)
        • What "pulled" them to your state?
        • What may cause people to move away from your state in the short-term? the long-term?


        Ask students to return to the Census Bureau site for "Geographic Mobility/Migration" and open the report "State of Residence in 1990 by State of Birth." Have them scan the data for 1990.

        1. Which fives states had the smallest populations of residents born in state?
        2. Are there any changes between these two census periods?
        3. Were there changes in your state?

        Part Three: Which States Are Experiencing the Greatest Growth (or Loss)?

        Materials Needed


        1. Direct students to the population section of the Statistical Abstract of the United States (a print copy may be available in your school library). Have them locate Table 18. "State Population – Rank, Percent Change, and Population Density: 1980-2003."
        2. Divide the class into two groups, assigning each group one of the following decades: 1980-1990; 1990-2000.
          • Have students examine the column for percent change in population and discuss appropriate categories for organizing the data. [Note: One category probably should be for negative change, with three or four more categories centered around the national average. Remind students that both groups must use the same scale so the maps can be compared later.]
          • Have students construct choropleth maps showing percent change in population by state for each decade.
          • Have them identify the five states with the highest and lowest (or negative) rate of change.
          1. Reorganize students into groups of four or six with half from the group that mapped change in 1980-1990 and half from the group that mapped change in 1990-2000.
            • Have each new group compare the maps they have constructed.
              • What changes in growth patterns do they observe?
              • What overall trend in population change do they see?
              • What factors might account for this trend?
              • What are some likely consequences of this population shift (social, economic, environmental, political)?
            1. Have students, working independently, write a one-two page essay in which they discuss "population mobility in the United States—its causes and consequences." They should develop a general thesis that they support using specific examples drawn from the maps and data used in the activity.