Maureen Nelson lives in West St. Paul, just “nine miles away from the family home” where she grew up in Maplewood.

Nelson, 62, has lived her entire life in Minnesota, save a brief stint in Arizona after high school.

The same is true for much of her family: Her parents grew up and settled down in the Twin Cities. Her husband is from Minnesota, and their grown daughter lives in an east metro suburb.

Nelson’s noticed that folks born here tend to be tied here.

So Nelson submitted a question to Curious Minnesota, the Star Tribune’s new community-driven reporting project, which invites readers into the newsroom to let us know what questions they have on who we are and where we live. She asked: “What percentage of Minnesotans are born, raised and live their entire life in a 50-mile radius, and how does that compare to other states?”

To start, there’s a caveat: There’s no way to nail down a firm answer to this, with no data specific enough to know if people have lived their entire lives in a single area. But there is some information that points us in the right direction.

A 2008 Pew Research Center survey, found that nearly four-in-ten Americans have never left their hometown; the same was true for nearly half of Midwesterners. However, that data is now a little old.

Minnesota does have a relatively high number of Minnesota-born residents living in the state, according to analysis of the most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Around 68 percent of people currently living in Minnesota were born here, marking the 12th highest of any state.

The percentages vary, ranging from a high of 87 percent in Morrison County to a low of 33 percent in Houston County, right on the border of La Crosse, Wis.

Nationally, an estimated 58 percent of people were born in the state they’re living in. In Louisiana, around 78 percent of the population is native-born, which is highest in the country. Nevada has the lowest nationally, with only 26 percent. 

Mike Maciag, a data editor for Governing magazine, recently crunched the same census data focusing on adults (those 25 years and older), mapping out every county in the U.S.

Maciag said the data shows more residents are moving to the South and West. It also showed an urban-rural divide. “Cities tend to be home to more transplants,” he said, because their large foreign-born populations and the draw of jobs.

While the census data doesn’t address whether someone moved away and then came back, Minnesota State Demographer Susan Brower said the data suggests Minnesota is a pretty “sticky state” for its natives.

“People who are born here tend to stay here, or if they move away, like a lot of young adults move away, they tend to come back,” she said.

Why? Jack DeWaard, a University of Minnesota sociology professor, said Minnesota’s strong economic performance may have something to do with it.

Like other major life decisions, he said people often move based on their checkbook. “If it’s more beneficial to move or it’s more beneficial to stay economically, than that’s what people are going to do,” he said.

Then there’s the influence of family and friends.

DeWaard said people tend to move to places where they know people. “Connections to family and friends really matter when people are making decisions to migrate,” he said.

Brower said “push” and “pull” factors play an important role in determining if people decide to move and where they decide to move to.

“You tend to stay put unless something is pushing you away or there’s a strong force pulling you,” she said.

Minnesota’s high ranking on a variety of measures, like quality of life, education and health care, means there may not be a lot pushing people away, Brower said. 

Brower did, however, highlight one factor that’s not helping the cause: Minnesota’s weather.

For some “that’s a barrier,” she said. “It’s a no-deal once they see what we have here in terms of winter.”

Austen Macalus is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.

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If you'd like to submit a Curious Minnesota question, fill out the form below:

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