Intercounty Variability of Net Migration at Older Ages as a Path‐Dependent Process


migration, immigration, retirement


This article seeks to identify factors associated with the formation and development of nonmetropolitan destinations for older in‐migration, thereby explaining why some U.S. counties are more likely than others to be nonmetro retirement destinations. We contend that most nonmetro retirement destinations are established and developed over time through a path‐dependent process. When amenities are commodified as recreation and tourism, migration streams tend to be established that ultimately produce sustained in‐migration of older persons to selected destination communities. We use data from a variety of official sources and a spatial statistics methodology to examine intercounty variability in net migration rates at ages 60–74. Our findings are consistent with the aforementioned path‐dependent development framework. Counties with a long history of population growth, previous experience attracting older in‐migrants, attractive natural amenities, and a developed recreation and tourism industry are those most likely to be retirement‐age migration destinations. In contrast, agricultural heartland and relatively large population size are associated with lower rates of older in‐migration. Older in‐migration should be seen as neither a panacea for strapped rural communities nor a “pensions and care issue.” Older migrants can be “gray gold,” but they can also pose challenges, such as possibly increased demand for public services as they age in place.

Original Publication Citation

Brown, David L., Benjamin C. Bolender, Laszlo J. Kulcsar, Nina Glasgow, and Scott R. Sanders. "Intercounty Variability of Net Migration at Older Ages as a Path-Dependent Process." Rural Sociology 76, no. 1 (2011): 44-73.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Rural Sociology




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor