A Hopeful Trend among Millennials

There's much to worry about in the U.S.'s current state.  Allow me to channel my inner David Brooks and take heart from a more hopeful trend.

Writing at Vox, agricultural economist Lyman Stone flips the script on a widespread trope about America's young adults.  The American Millennial – that most curious of species, with a smartphone glued to one hand and a slice of avocado toast in the other – is not the wayward flake we all think.  Our perception is skewed.  The average Millennial isn't actually living in an urban co-op with ten roommates, juggling six different freelance jobs, devoid of possessions other than the 21st-century staples of an iPhone, a laptop, a pallet bed, and a laundry bag of expensive clothes.

Millennials, it turns out, are far more rooted than the stereotype implies.  They aren't switching jobs on a whim; they aren't peripatetic in their living habits.  "By a number of measures, Americans today, including millennials, are less mobile, less likely to switch jobs, and generally more rooted in specific geographic areas than their predecessors," Stone observes.

The statistics bear this out. The job tenure rate has remained stable since 2006.  The average amount of time a young American adult spends in a locale is 12 years, which is an increase from nine in the 1960s.  Even the number of evenings Millennials spend at home with their families is rising, while time spent with friends is falling.

In a more surprising twist, the city-bound Millennial is starting to give way to those seeking a more pastoral life in the country.  Beginning in 2012, urban net migration has plummeted, while its rural equivalent has risen.  Jackson County, Ga. is the new Brooklyn.

Stone refers to himself as a social conservative but admits that the trend the is troubling.  He writes, "[A] shift toward increasing rootedness is a worrying break with the historic American norm of dynamism and mobility."

No, it isn't.  And I can't think of any genuine social conservative who views rootedness as a problem for the country.  Not to commit the no true Scotsman error, but an attachment to place is one of the first principles of conservatism.  It is sine qua non with what is considered the philosophy of Burke, Kirk, and Scruton.

It's true that America does have a tradition of restless discovery that has driven much of our economic innovation and growth.  Manifest Destiny, the Wild West, the Dust Bowl exodus, the Great Migration, Apollo 11 – all were events that improved not just our way of life, but the shape of our nation.

In fact, the U.S. was founded upon the express purpose of excavating roots from the Old Country (Europe, namely England) and planting them elsewhere, shedding a previous identity for a new one.  In a letter to Moritz von Furstenwarther, a German immigration researcher, then-secretary of state John Quincy Adams implored newly arriving Americans to "cast off the European skin, never to resume it."  More so, he urged them to "look forward to their posterity, rather than backward to their ancestors."

An antipathy toward establishing deep roots was baked into America from the beginning.  And while it has leavened our rise into both an economic powerhouse and the world's foremost rule-enforcer, it has warped our sense of place, the value of having a defined, unmoving point on a constantly spinning globe.  "To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul," wrote French philosopher Simone Weil.  Establishing roots happens only through "real, active and natural participation in the life of a community," which, in turn, "preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future."

You can't plant yourself in a place you're already thinking of leaving.  Deep connection is established not with nomadic laborers for hire – it's formed by those willing to put in the investment to cultivate that indefinite but still real sense of belonging.  In a word, it's commitment.

Does this mean that America will lose its dynamism to another up-and-coming nation like China, where peasants are leaving farming villages in droves for big urban centers?  Perhaps; perhaps not.  But even if our newfound stagnation results in a lower GDP rate, the trade-off may be worth it.  Forgoing a slightly cheaper 2019 Ford F-150 for the sake of having a friend from church you trust enough to watch your kid while you and your spouse enjoy a date night sounds like a pretty good deal.

Whatever the cause behind more Millennials staying put, it's a welcome development.  There's more to life than crisscrossing the country in search of a better paying job.  And who knows?  Settling down could teach Millennials to revere those antiquated values of family, faith, and country.

They're surely better than avocado toast.

There's much to worry about in the U.S.'s current state.  Allow me to channel my inner David Brooks and take heart from a more hopeful trend.

Writing at Vox, agricultural economist Lyman Stone flips the script on a widespread trope about America's young adults.  The American Millennial – that most curious of species, with a smartphone glued to one hand and a slice of avocado toast in the other – is not the wayward flake we all think.  Our perception is skewed.  The average Millennial isn't actually living in an urban co-op with ten roommates, juggling six different freelance jobs, devoid of possessions other than the 21st-century staples of an iPhone, a laptop, a pallet bed, and a laundry bag of expensive clothes.

Millennials, it turns out, are far more rooted than the stereotype implies.  They aren't switching jobs on a whim; they aren't peripatetic in their living habits.  "By a number of measures, Americans today, including millennials, are less mobile, less likely to switch jobs, and generally more rooted in specific geographic areas than their predecessors," Stone observes.

The statistics bear this out. The job tenure rate has remained stable since 2006.  The average amount of time a young American adult spends in a locale is 12 years, which is an increase from nine in the 1960s.  Even the number of evenings Millennials spend at home with their families is rising, while time spent with friends is falling.

In a more surprising twist, the city-bound Millennial is starting to give way to those seeking a more pastoral life in the country.  Beginning in 2012, urban net migration has plummeted, while its rural equivalent has risen.  Jackson County, Ga. is the new Brooklyn.

Stone refers to himself as a social conservative but admits that the trend the is troubling.  He writes, "[A] shift toward increasing rootedness is a worrying break with the historic American norm of dynamism and mobility."

No, it isn't.  And I can't think of any genuine social conservative who views rootedness as a problem for the country.  Not to commit the no true Scotsman error, but an attachment to place is one of the first principles of conservatism.  It is sine qua non with what is considered the philosophy of Burke, Kirk, and Scruton.

It's true that America does have a tradition of restless discovery that has driven much of our economic innovation and growth.  Manifest Destiny, the Wild West, the Dust Bowl exodus, the Great Migration, Apollo 11 – all were events that improved not just our way of life, but the shape of our nation.

In fact, the U.S. was founded upon the express purpose of excavating roots from the Old Country (Europe, namely England) and planting them elsewhere, shedding a previous identity for a new one.  In a letter to Moritz von Furstenwarther, a German immigration researcher, then-secretary of state John Quincy Adams implored newly arriving Americans to "cast off the European skin, never to resume it."  More so, he urged them to "look forward to their posterity, rather than backward to their ancestors."

An antipathy toward establishing deep roots was baked into America from the beginning.  And while it has leavened our rise into both an economic powerhouse and the world's foremost rule-enforcer, it has warped our sense of place, the value of having a defined, unmoving point on a constantly spinning globe.  "To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul," wrote French philosopher Simone Weil.  Establishing roots happens only through "real, active and natural participation in the life of a community," which, in turn, "preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future."

You can't plant yourself in a place you're already thinking of leaving.  Deep connection is established not with nomadic laborers for hire – it's formed by those willing to put in the investment to cultivate that indefinite but still real sense of belonging.  In a word, it's commitment.

Does this mean that America will lose its dynamism to another up-and-coming nation like China, where peasants are leaving farming villages in droves for big urban centers?  Perhaps; perhaps not.  But even if our newfound stagnation results in a lower GDP rate, the trade-off may be worth it.  Forgoing a slightly cheaper 2019 Ford F-150 for the sake of having a friend from church you trust enough to watch your kid while you and your spouse enjoy a date night sounds like a pretty good deal.

Whatever the cause behind more Millennials staying put, it's a welcome development.  There's more to life than crisscrossing the country in search of a better paying job.  And who knows?  Settling down could teach Millennials to revere those antiquated values of family, faith, and country.

They're surely better than avocado toast.