Motivator:

It’s well-known that young people typically leave rural areas in search of higher education and work opportunities. There’s also a common belief out there that this out-migration of young people represents a “brain drain.” Recently, a University of Minnesota Extension study showed that though young people (18-29) might be leaving rural areas, between 1990 and 2010 rural areas across the US were attracting people age 30-49. These authors argue that this is evidence of a rural “brain gain.” So the question for us is, is this true for Oregon? Is this really a brain gain?

Nugget2Key Learning Nugget:

Between 1990 and 2010 rural Oregon did attract people age 30-49, but these in-flows of people weren’t necessarily associated with gains in the overall education levels of the population – we actually can’t be sure if this in-migration is synonymous with “brain gain.”

Evidence to Support the Nugget:

  • The charts below show that the 1990s and 2000s saw net in-migration of 30-49 year olds in non-metro Oregon

 

Positive values indicate net in-migration and negative values indicate net out-migration of people in the age group.
Positive values indicate net in-migration and negative values indicate net out-migration of people in the age group. Source: http://www.netmigration.wisc.edu/

 

Positive values indicate net in-migration and negative values indicate net out-migration of people in the age group.
Positive values indicate net in-migration and negative values indicate net out-migration of people in the age group. Source: http://www.netmigration.wisc.edu/
  • Net in-migration of 30-49 year olds is not associated with gains in the level of education among the population.
    • Correlation of non-metro net migration rates with change in the percent of adults age 25+ with a Bachelor’s or more actually reveals a negative relationship in the 1990s and 2000s (rho = -.47 for 1990s, rho = -.08 for 2000s). This means that counties with higher net in-migration rates of people age 30 to 49 had lower growth in the percent of people with a Bachelor’s or more in these two decades. In other words, counties with high rates of in-migration of 30-49 year olds saw low growth in educational attainment, while counties with low rates of in-migration of 30-49 year olds saw high growth in educational attainment.
    • According to linear regression, these negative correlations were statistically significant for the 1990s, but very small (b = -.0057), and non-existent for the 2000s. This ultimately means that in the 2000s net in-migration of 30 to 49 years had nothing to do with changes in educational attainment among the population, and in the 1990s net in-migration had only a small amount to do with changes in educational attainment, and they were negative.
    • There may be a few reasons for this finding:
      1. The education levels of rural 30-49 year old in-migrants in the 1990s were actually relatively low.
      2. We aren’t accurately measuring brain gain. Instead of using overall educational attainment in counties perhaps we need to be measuring the “brainy-ness” of the in-migrants themselves. Unfortunately, we don’t know the education levels of these in-migrants because the data don’t exist.
      3. The effect of in-migrants age 30-49 on the overall education level in the non-metro counties may be muted by the presence of other age groups and their education levels.

Take-awayThe Take-Aways:

  • New-comers, age 30 to 49, are a reality in our rural communities. This means we can think about and talk about rural communities in Oregon as places of growth in this respect. Out-migration of youth can happen at the same time as in-migration of middle-aged adults. It also means that we shouldn’t forget to include these new-comers in our programs. They may have some cool ideas about new programs or ways of offering current programs and they’ll likely benefit greatly from being involved!
  • The data also show us that we can’t infer that the in-migration of middle-aged adults to rural areas represents a brain gain. If we want to find out about the education levels of this new population, we need to gather better data.
  • What else do you take away from these data?

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