The geography of aspiration: People move to flyover country in search of opportunity

by Ryan Streeter on June 21, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

We know from polls that Americans are more conservative than anything else. That’s usually measured in terms of political ideology.

As I’ve pointed out various times, though, Americans frequently choose to move places that have attributes more amenable to a conservative worldview regardless of the political ideology of the people doing the moving. Low taxes, easy regulations, options when it comes to schools, and an economy based on merit and opportunity rather than wealth and connections – these things are easy for conservatives than liberals to defend.

Joel Kotkin’s latest Forbes piece on Oklahoma City focuses on yet another example of what I’m talking about:

Since 2000, the Plains’ population has grown 14%, well above the national rate of 9%. This has been driven by migration from the coasts, particularly Southern California, to the region’s cities and towns. Contrary to perceptions of the area as a wind-swept old-age home, demographer Ali Modarres has found that the vast majority of the newcomers are between 20 and 35.

Oklahoma City epitomizes these trends. Over the last decade, the city’s population expanded 14%, roughly three times as fast as the San Francisco area and more than four times the rate of growth of New York or Los Angeles. Between 2010 and 2011 OKC ranked 10th out of the nation’s 51 largest metropolitan areas in terms of rate of net growth.

Nothing more reflects the changing fortunes of Oklahoma City than the strong net migration from many coastal communities, notably Los Angeles and Riverside, a historic reversal of the great “Okie” migration of the 1920s and 1930s. In the past decade, over 20,000 more Californians have migrated to Oklahoma than the other way around. OKC has even experienced a small net migration from the Heat’s South Florida stomping grounds.

As my son, an avid Miami Heat fan, knows, this is why I’ve been backing the Thunder in the championship series. OKC hasn’t had a professional sports team of any kind until the Thunder, let alone a national champion. Now, it’s looking more and more like my son will be the happier of the two of us when it’s over, but nonetheless the Thunder’s presence in the championship shines a bright light on the reality of the trends Kotkin has been writing about, as have I to a lesser extent.