The population of the United States is very mobile—ranging from international migrants coming into the country to residents moving within and among the states. This movement of people introduces changes in terms of social, economic, environmental, and political makeup of states and regions. Understanding the implications of these changes is an important element of population geography as well as citizenship education.


  • To describe patterns of internal migration in the United States, past and present
  • To evaluate implications of internal migration
  • To examine population movement at the state and local levels

Content Standards

AP Human Geography*: Unit II—Population Unit
C. Population movement
1. Push and pull factors
2. Major voluntary and involuntary migrations at different scales

Student Activities

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


Distribute copies of Handouts 1 and 2, and colored pencils.
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? …in 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.

Activity 2: Population Mobility Is Changing My State


Between 2002 and 2003, 40.1 million U.S. residents moved, but more than half of those moves were local (within the same county). State-level and local moves are most meaningful to students because it is at this scale that their lives are most affected by mobility. It is also at this scale that students can conduct primary research in order to understand the causes and consequences of local change.

Part One: How is Population Mobility at the State and Local Level Changing My State?

Materials Needed

  • PowerPoint or overhead transparency of Figure 1: U.S. Change in Residence, 1995-2000 (PPT: 43KB)
  • PowerPoint or overhead transparency of Figure 2: United States: Changing Residence, 1995-2000
    (PPT: 174KB)


  1. Use a projector to show Figure 1 or distribute it to students. Point out that while almost half of the people moved during this five-year period, most remained fairly close to home or at least within the same state.
  2. Next, project or distribute Figure 2. Encourage students to discuss the patterns reflected in this map, noting that residential change varied greatly across the country.
  3. Have the students answer the following questions:
  • Which states experienced change well above the national average?
  • Which states experienced relatively little change?
  • Consider push-pull factors that might account for varying levels of residential change.
  • Where does your state fit into this pattern of change?
  • What might account for your state’s experience relative to the national average?

Part Two: How Does Scale Affect the Message of a Map?

Materials Needed


  1. Explain to students that the smaller the map scale (the larger the area represented in a map), the greater the degree of generalization of data represented on the map. Therefore, at the national level (as represented in Figure 2), each state appears to have experienced a uniform level of residential change. However, most states, when viewed at the county or even subcounty level, reveal a pattern of mobility that is quite varied.
  2. Distribute blank maps of your state with county boundaries. Then direct students to “American FactFinder” on the U.S. Census Bureau website. By carefully following the steps below, students can collect data at the county level for residential change.
  • On the left sidebar, click on “Data Sets.”
  • In the next screen, select “Census 2000 Summary File 3 (SF-3)” and “Detailed Tables.”
  • Next select “County” under Geographic Type; then select “State”; then “All Counties.”
  • Click on “Add” and then on “Next.”
  • Scroll through the list of tables to locate Table PCT 21; click “Add.” Then click “Show Result.” [Note: You can select additional tables if desired.]
  • The data for your state will appear as an Excel file that can be either printed or downloaded to a computer.
  1. Calculate the percentage of population that moved for each category and each county. [Note: This calculation can be done automatically in Excel.] Use this data to construct a choropleth map at the county level of residential mobility in your state 1995-2000.
  2. When maps have been completed, lead a discussion of the patterns of mobility revealed.
  • Review how your state compares to the rest of the country in terms of mobility rates. Is it above or below the national average?
  • Consider factors that may account for your state’s mobility status.
  • Describe patterns of mobility within your state.
  • Which counties have experienced above average mobility? Which fall below average? Use your knowledge of your state to account for these patterns. What are the “growth magnets” in your state?
  1. Now focus on the county in which your school is located.
  • Identify patterns of mobility within your county or city. If possible, visit areas of unusually high or low mobility. Observe characteristics that may influence mobility.
  • How might patterns of mobility affect political and economic trends in your state, county, or community?
  • Did your parents grow up in your community or did they migrate from elsewhere? If your parents are “local,” how has your state, county, or community changed since they were in high school? Which changes are products of mobility trends?

Lesson Resources

“Domestic Migration Across Regions, Divisions, and States: 1995 to 2000” (U.S. Census Bureau)

“Geographic Mobility: 2002-2003” (U.S. Census Bureau)

How to Create Choropleth Maps (PDF: 35KB)

[Note: The page numbers provided refer to the pages of the publication, not the pdf file.]

Central Concepts: Push-Pull factors; population mobility

Case Locations: United States

This lesson plan is part of a teaching package, Making Population Real: New Lesson Plans and Classroom Activities.

* AP and the Advanced Placement Program are registered trademarks of the College Entrance Examination Board, which was not involved in the production of these lesson plans.