Martin Feldstein (1997, p. 36) claims that workers within the US are more geographically mobile than say within Germany. I had known that US workers were mobile. But one sentence of his seems a bit hyperbolic:

While Americans don't hesitate to move from Ohio and Massachusetts to Arizona and California, Germans are loathe to leave one part of Germany for another.

Boston to say San Francisco (about 5,000km) is about seven times the distance from Hamburg to Munich (about 700km). It would seem surprising that Americans don't hesitate to move from one end of their country to another, while Germans are loathe to do so.

Of course there are many ways this could be measured. But here is my attempt at a question that is in principle answerable:

Each year, what percentages of US and German workers relocate to a different state (within the same country) for work? Is the figure for the US greater than that for Germany?

P.S. Feldstein was writing in 1997 but I imagine the numbers do not differ very greatly between now and then--correct me if I'm wrong.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't have numbers to compare, but the Germans are pretty mobile. I work in Germany and a lot of my colleagues are from other areas of Germany. So 'loathe' does not seem realistic to me. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 9:37
  • $\begingroup$ The US has many more states than Germany (50 to 16), so percentage of workers relocating to a different state is a questionable measure of mobility for this comparison. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 9:59

1 Answer 1


Here is a figure documenting annual (I think) internal migration rates in Germany: enter image description here

Internal Migration in Germany, 1995-2010: New Insights into East-West Migration and Re-urbanisation (Sander (2014))

This table show 5 year migration rates in many countries, including the USA: enter image description here enter image description here Cross-national comparisons of internal migration: An update on global patterns and trends (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2013))

Depending on methodology, annual and 5-year rates can't exactly be compared because some people will move to another area and move back within five years, so asking people if they live in the same state as 5 years ago won't give the same result as asking someone if they lived in a different state last year for five years. That said, if we can make some rough comparisons if we treat the five year rate as roughly comparable to five times the annual rate. The USA rate is about 9 percent every 5 years or 1.8 percent per year. This would be higher (but not much higher) than the West-East, East-East, and East-West German internal migration rates but quite a bit lower than the internal migration rate within West Germany. It might be that this converts the 5-year rates to annual ones that are too low, but the sizes seem roughly comparable. This is just two sources but they provide little or no evidence for Feldstein's claim that the German rates are far lower than in the US.


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