Study: Third of Americans thinking about leaving country to live abroad

Researchers found that people who don’t feel “very strongly” about their national identity were most likely to consider life outside the U.S.

KENT, England — A third of natural-born Americans have thought about packing up and living elsewhere — outside the United States — at some point in the future, but it may not be for the reason you think, a new study finds.

Researchers from the University of Kent in the United Kingdom and Tufts University in the U.S. say that the most popular reason (87.4 percent) to live abroad is the simple desire to explore the world. Surprisingly, whether a person identifies as liberal or conservative politically had no correlation to their hopes of moving overseas.

“While one might think that ideological orientation plays a role, at least in this pre-Trump survey, we found out that it did not, at least not directly,” says Dr. Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels, of Kent’s Brussels School of International Studies, in a release.

Yet while politics didn’t have a direct link, the authors found that one’s own national identity was an important underlying factor in their aspirations for living in another country. Specifically, those who didn’t respond that they had a very strong national identity were also more likely to leave.

“We asked respondents if they had a ‘very strong,’ ‘somewhat strong,’ ‘not very strong,’ or ‘not strong at all’ American national identity. Those who had anything other than ‘very strong’ national identity were more likely to aspire to live abroad,” Klekowski von Koppenfels tells StudyFinds. “It was, of course, a quantitative measure of a subjective belief measuring individuals’ self-identity.”

Other factors that played a role included knowing other Americans who’d lived abroad or having served in the military.

The researchers used data from a 2014 nationally representative survey of 877 U.S.-born citizens still living in America, and found that besides exploration, other top reasons to live abroad included retirement (51 percent), escape from a bad or disappointing situation in America (49 percent), or for work (48 percent). Participants were asked whether or not they’d aspired to live outside the U.S. for a period of time in the future.

“Just over half (58.4 percent) said no, not at all; 8.4 percent said they never had, but might consider it if something came up and 33.1 percent had thought about doing so, with 5.4 percent overall strongly planning on doing so,” says Klekowski von Koppenfels.

An earlier study by Klekowski von Koppenfels found that most Americans who migrated elsewhere also claimed adventure or exploration was the reason why, with marriage/partnership not far behind. She tells StudyFinds she hopes to run the same survey again to see how responses change in the current political climate.

This latest work was published November 28, 2018 in the International Migration Review.

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