California is Growing, Where Are the New Residents Moving From?

As of 2020, California stands as the most populous state in the United States, boasting nearly 40 million residents. Nevertheless, recent years have witnessed a deceleration in the state’s population growth. This slowdown is attributed to a combination of factors, including aging, declining birth rates, and a net out-migration. In this article, we delve into the migration trends shaping California, exploring the movement of residents both in and out of the state. Additionally, we examine the potential reasons behind these trends and the implications they hold.

California’s Shifting Migration Patterns

Historically, migration fueled much of California’s population growth until 1990, primarily originating from other U.S. states. Since then, natural increase, marked by the surplus of births over deaths, has been the predominant driver of the state’s growth. However, the past decade has seen gains through international migration counteracted by losses in domestic migration. Census Bureau data reveals a net outflow of 3.5 million residents to other states since 2000. This shift is attributed to challenges in housing affordability and an increasingly challenging cost of living.

Traditionally, California’s population growth concentrated along the Pacific Coast, from Santa Rosa County to the Mexican border, known as the “Coast: Bay to Border.” However, over time, migration trends shifted toward the “Interior & Valleys,” encompassing counties between the Coast ranges in the west and the Sierra and Cascade ranges in the east. This region, including major metropolitan areas like Sacramento and Fresno, has seen significant growth, surpassing the Coast’s share of state growth. In recent years, the Interior & Valleys have even outpaced the Bay to Border region in population growth.

State-to-State Flows and Populated States

Highly populated states, such as California, Texas, and Florida, witness substantial state-to-state migration. Notably, Californians predominantly relocate to Texas, constituting the largest flow between two states. Similarly, residents leaving Florida tend to move to neighboring Georgia. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 7.9 million people moved between states in 2021, reflecting an increase from almost 7.4 million in 2019. This surge coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, influencing geographic mobility due to factors like remote work.

Reasons and Implications of Migration

Various factors drive interstate migration, including economic opportunities, family ties, quality of life, climate, and personal preferences. For California, the primary drivers of net out-migration include high housing costs, an elevated cost of living, substantial tax burdens, congestion, pollution, and the threat of natural disasters.

The implications of migration extend across demographics, economics, politics, and culture for both origin and destination states. Changes in age, race, and education composition can impact labor markets, social services, and political representation. Additionally, migration influences income, wealth, tax revenue, and the demand-supply dynamics of housing and infrastructure. It also shapes the social and cultural diversity, cohesion, and the exchange of ideas within states.


California, a dynamic and diverse state, has witnessed significant population growth and change over the years. However, recent trends indicate a slowdown in growth, marked by more residents leaving than entering from other states. The reasons and implications of this trend are multifaceted, potentially exerting lasting effects on both the state and the nation. A comprehensive understanding of state-to-state migration patterns is crucial for informed policymaking and future planning.

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