Americans are staying put, but community ties are weakening anyway

by Ryan Streeter on May 22, 2013. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Ross Douthat’s follow-on post to his Sunday column on fraying social ties pinpoints a highly important debate we should be having – namely, why is community weakening at a time when people are staying put more than they used to?

He writes:

It’s easy to assume that America’s current crisis of community — the fragmentation of family life, the retreat from civic and religious engagement — is related to people being too quick to pull up stakes and leave their existing communities behind. But the surprising reality is that the recent weakening of social ties has coincided with a decline in mobility.

He then cites Census figures showing that compared to 1985 when 20.2% of people changed residences, only 11.6% moved in 2010-2011 – the lowest rate since we started collecting data. He continues:

Now Americans are still a more mobile people than most. But if you’re looking for a straightforward link between staying in place and the health of America’s communities, this is not the trend you would expect. We are staying put more than we did in earlier eras, and yet outside of the upper class it isn’t translating into the kind of personal and familial stability that communitarians want to cultivate.

His last point refers to the body of research, perhaps best summed up in Charles’ Murray’s latest book, that middle and working class America are actually living through a generational collapse of family and community ties as we’ve traditionally understood them.

Mobility is down, yet so is community. Douthat suggests later in his post that while it’s hard to know what is driving this, it’s a question we ought to be seeking an answer to. I agree.