Urban Flight and Avoidance in the 21st Century: Exploring Post-COVID Residential Mobility Patterns in the U.S.

Awarded Scholars:
Ingrid Gould Ellen, New York University
Project Date:
Jan 2021
Award Amount:

Urban areas had much higher death rates in the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic than non-metropolitan areas. Although these gaps decreased as the pandemic spread across the country, the effects of the virus may continue to be more salient in higher density areas. Residents of higher-income and whiter neighborhoods in New York City, for example, were more likely to leave the city early on, raising the question of whether temporary moves might become permanent resettlement patterns. Increased flight from or an aversion to moving into cities might contribute to declines in urban population and employment, fiscal shortfalls, community disinvestment, and increased segregation. This research project will analyze the immediate and longer-term effects of the pandemic on mobility patterns and how they differ across groups. Ellen will focus on the following questions: (1) Has COVID-19 changed the demand for large and more densely populated cities? (2) Do local contexts and policies, such as density, generosity of social policies, or COVID infection rates, explain cross-city variation in mobility responses? (3) Which demographic groups are more likely to leave or avoid cities in the post-COVID as compared to pre-COVID period, and what are the implications for racial and age-based segregation? (4) Because New York City was the initial center of the epidemic, what housing and neighborhood characteristics in New York City are associated with greater flight or avoidance? To address these questions, Ellen will use data from Infutor Data Solutions to examine residential mobility rates and relocation patterns in different cities in response to COVID-19. Infutor compiles information from commercial transactions, such as cell phone plans, property deeds, credit bureau data, voter files, and subscription services, and creates an individual-level, national database documenting the residential address history of a near universe of U.S. adults, allowing tracking of the origin and destination for all residential moves. By exploiting the timing that individuals appear at new addresses, the project will examine mobility patterns through the first quarter of 2022, two years after the start of the pandemic.


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