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?
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
- 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:
- The education levels of rural 30-49 year old in-migrants in the 1990s were actually relatively low.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?