Boston Indicators Email List

Follow us on Twitter

And LinkedIn

If not for international migration, Massachusetts would be losing population.

By Peter Ciurczak

January 31, 2019

This is an online version of our Boston Research Snapshot email newsletter from March, 2019. Sign up to get the newsletter in your inbox every month.

Between 2010 and 2018, the Northeast lost more residents than any other U.S. region. Fortunately, Massachusetts actually experienced a net gain as increases from international migration outpaced losses from domestic migration. These findings are from a Boston Indicators analysis of new data released by the Census Bureau’s Population Estimates Program.

Looking just at the effect of household decisions to move to and from U.S. states (not including the effect of births and deaths), the Northeast experienced a loss of almost one percent of its 2010 population, the largest loss of any region. From 2017 to 2018 alone, the Northeast lost 63,000 people due to net migration out of the region. People moving out of the Northeast tend to be seeking some combination of new job opportunities, cheaper housing and warmer weather.

Northeast Loss

Since net migration is the combined effect of domestic and international moves, the graph below splits these two dynamics apart to show how they’re playing out in different regions. Since 2010 every region saw a net increase in international migration, but only the Northeast and Midwest experienced domestic loses.

Northeast In-Out-Migration

While the majority of Northeastern states lost population to migration relative to their 2010 bases, Massachusetts actually gained more than 3 percent of its population by 2018. This growth was the largest of any state in the Northeast, and was driven by people moving to the Commonwealth from outside the country. Within the Northeast, our growth from international migration was second only to New York’s.

Net Migration States Oriented

While the Population Estimates Program doesn’t allow us to analyze which states Massachusetts residents are moving to, a different Census Bureau data product—the American Community Survey—does provide some of this information. Between 2016 and 2017, Massachusetts lost more residents on net to New Hampshire than to any other state. On the flip side, we experienced a net gain of about 8,000 residents from New York. Puerto Ricans also feature prominently among those moving here. Massachusetts has long had a large Puerto Rican population, and Hurricane Maria in 2017 led many more to migrate here. Only Florida and Pennsylvania have seen greater net migration from Puerto Rico than Massachusetts.

Top 10 States to Which
Massachusetts Lost More Residents
Than It Gained (2016-17) 
Top 10 States from Which
Massachusetts Gained More Residents
Than It Lost (2016-17)
 States Net Change    States Net Change
 New Hampshire  -9,317      New York  8,007
 Florida  -6,713      Puerto Rico*  5,601
 North Carolina  -4,389      New Jersey  4,273
 California -4,029       Delaware  1,186
 Rhode Island  -3,862      Michigan  977
 Maine  -3,468      Georgia  860
Connecticut  -2,864      Idaho  732
 Washington  -2,018      Utah  685
 Vermont  -1,975      Louisiana  598
 Arizona  -1,352      Minnesota  534
* Though a U.S. Territory, Puerto Rico is referred to here as a state for ease of comparison.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 1-Year Estimates. 2016-2017

Analyzing data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, as was done for Massachusetts in Governing magazine, gives a sense of what drives people to move. Almost a third of people moving out of Massachusetts left because they got new jobs or transferred out-of-state, while one in five residents moved out for reasons related to housing. Similar to Massachusetts, twenty-three percent of movers from both New York and New Jersey cite housing as a reason to leave their states. Taken together, the movement out of high-cost housing markets in MA, NY and NJ suggests that a lack of affordable housing may be a significant driver of migration away from the Northeast.

 Reasons for Leaving
(Reasons people are leaving, as a share of all movers out of Massachusetts)
 Reason %
 New job or job transfer  29.8%
 Housing-related reasons  21.6%
 Other family reason  16.5%
 Change in marital status  4.8%
 To establish own household  4.1%
 Change of climate  3.3%
 Note: Analysis performed by Mike Maciag,, retrieved 1/23/2019.
Source: 2015-2017 Census CPS microdata from IPUMS-CPS, University of Minnesota

Read more from Boston Indicators