Some people have one of two misconceptions of the type of people who relocate. One I call the “Retiree Myth”, that the majority of American relocators are retirees looking for a warmer climate. Although that is the case for some, elsewhere at this site it is made clear that they are not the primary age group to relocate.
The second regards their economic “class”. A very well-known investment advisor with a huge public following once wrote me in regards to my Barron’s article of 2007 that he assumed the majority of relocators were wealthy. I told him, no, that was not the case. Certainly upper-income relocators are a part of the picture, but they are far from the majority.
But I could understand his misconception. For decades, the upper classes have owned homes in other nations. They were the ones who worked for American businesses in Europe and Asia. They may have sent their children to schools in Britain, Switzerland, or other European nations in order to become bilingual or simply for the prestige factor. The upper class was among the most globalized long before the word “globalization” had been invented.
Likewise, a group I would call the “working poor” had been globalized for a very long time. With little hope for a better future at home, they would move wherever there were jobs, looking for income. A few would do well and return home to start small businesses. This is a very old story and I met many of them on my travels during the four decades that I spent in global work as a Peace Corps Volunteer, a missionary, and, for most of that time, a consultant to a wide variety of non-profit agencies, international economic development organizations, and businesses.
Even the very poor would relocate under duress. These are the refugees who fled the horrors of wars, famines, and political persecution, among other outrages.
There are other groups that might not be called “classes” traditionally, but who have traveled this planet for very long times. They include the traders from Marco Polo to the African market ladies who would sit beside on flights from London to Accra, Ghana in West Africa, having handed over bags, boxes, and suitcases absolutely bulging with goods for resale at home. Although this group typically was not made up of relocators, only short-term visitors, some did indeed decide not to return home, if things turned bad enough in the “old country”.
And then there is the criminal class. Crime respects no boundaries, not when there is big money involved. For the most successful, a home in another nation was not that unusual.
However, one major class, one of the largest, was usually missing…the middle class. This was especially true of Americans. In part, this was a matter of distance, of course. The location of the US had protected it from attack for a very long time, but it also made it more expensive for Americans to relocate.
But above all, the American middle class thought of themselves as richly blessed and could see no reason to live anywhere else. As a teenager, I can remember guests from Britain, Sweden, Belgium, and Argentina very much impressed with my family’s very middle class home. Whether it was central heating or our “huge” refrigerator, they envied our comforts that we took for granted.
Of course, there were always a few and I would meet them during my travels, Some were adventurers, pure and simple, escaping the “boring” American lifestyle, while others were escaping a difficult situation of one kind or another back in the US. Nearly all of them were colorful, sometimes a little whacked, but typically just unusual people with an unusual outlook on life. I enjoyed them, but they were few and far between.
There are a number of trends and unexpected results to be found in our surveys over nearly seven years. But one of those that interests me most, along with the age groups, is the obvious involvement of the American middle class in relocation. The statistical evidence is found on [another page at this site], but the evidence provides a decent generalization.
The highest income group in our surveys are those households whose annual income is $100,000 or more. In many of those households, especially in the larger metro areas, a hundred thousand dollars is not considered “upper class” in any way. They might agree to “upper-middle class”, but that is about it, and I would agree. But is we were to accept that as the boundary between the middle and upper classes despite this, then it should weight the results in favor of my correspondent’s assumption, mentioned earlier, that those relocating were wealthy.
The results are otherwise. You can see them in more detail at the Income page, but in a nutshell, households with $100,000 or more in annual income make up only 27% of total respondents focused on either relocation or purchasing a property outside the US. If we focus only on those interested in or planning to relocate, the percentage falls to 21% of the total of potential relocators.
Well, you may ask, what percentage of the total survey represents these households? If only 10%, then they are a much bigger share of the positive responses than their share of the total surveyed. But they are not 10%. They are 28%. The actually make up a slightly smaller portion of total positive response and a substantially smaller portion of those looking at relocation. Therefore, they are under-represented.
The details are interesting, but the message in this case is in the gross totals. There are plenty of upper-income households and lower-income households who are looking to relocate or purchase an overseas property, but the generalization that the “wealthy” dominate is clearly wrong. The middle class is in motion in ways that surprise some today.
But the simple fact is that it has never been easier or cheaper to relocate than it is today. And the American middle class has taken a terrible hit in this period of financial crisis. Why should we be surprised that they are looking wherever they can for a better life? To do so, in my mind, demonstrates a combination of ignorance and condescension. The American middle class is getting enough of that, undeservedly, in the US as it is. I will not repeat that here.