Gen Z Generation Flocking to Surprising Locations

Affordability, lifestyle and work drive most choices about where to live, but members of the Gen Z generation are moving to a few unusual places.

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Among all generations, the search for affordability continues to encourage migration from coastal cities to smaller cities in the South. But after years of rising home prices and now high interest rates impacting the housing market, the Mountain West and New England are attracting new residents, too, according to a recent migration report by StorageCafe, a nationwide self-storage search website and a part of Yardi, a property management software company.

Idaho, Vermont, and Montana are the top three states with the most new residents, according to the report, knocking Texas and Florida off their pedestals as the usual places attracting movers. The other top 10 states include South Carolina, Maine, Nevada, Arizona, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. 

While the availability of affordable housing encourages people to move to many of these locations, remote work has made it easier for many people to relocate. 

“For those spending more time at home, amenities such as a dedicated home office and a larger yard are increasingly desirable, which oftentimes means relocating farther away from busy urban hotspots,” says Doug Ressler, business intelligence manager at Yardi Matrix. “This is one of the main drivers of the massive flow to less densely populated locations like Idaho and Maine.”

However, while most large employers offer hybrid options for employees, the availability of fully remote work is declining, according to a recent report by JLL, a global real estate services company. 

Remote work positions declined to the lowest share of new job postings in three years, with just 9% of job postings on LinkedIn in July and August listed as remote, down from more than 20% of job listings in early 2022. Approximately 80% of employees at Fortune 100 companies work at hybrid companies, with an average in-office attendance requirement of 2.87 days. 

Where People Want to Live

When Green Builder Media surveyed consumers, more than one-third said they wanted to live in a vibrant city, and about 20% preferred to live on the outskirts of a city. 

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Source: COGNITION Smart Data


But various generations expressed a greater preference for different options. For example, the largest cohort of Gen Z consumers prefer the suburbs.

Gen Z preferences:

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Source: COGNITION Smart Data


A much smaller cohort of millennials prefers the suburbs, as seen in the graph below:

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Source: COGNITION Smart Data


Generational Divide in Relocation Patterns

While millennials and members of the Gen Z generation follow some of the same patterns as the overall population in their desire to relocate to the West and New England more than to the South, these two generations diverge in their motivations and choice of location.

“Gen Zers, the youngest generation currently entering the housing market, are increasingly drawn to less-hyped states,” says Maria Gatea, senior editor of StorageCafe. “Unlike their predecessors, they’re seeking simpler, more sustainable living in more natural surroundings.” 

Millennials, on the other hand, still hold strong to the traditional ideals that revolve around forging careers and securing high salaries for a comfortable lifestyle, Gatea says. 

“The top states where millennials move to (as a share of total move-ins to those states) are Washington, California, Colorado, New Jersey, New York, and D.C.,” Gatea says. “Over 40% of the people moving to these states are millennials, which is a lot considering that the millennial generation as a whole represents less than 22% of the U.S. population.”

Those top states and the District of Columbia are not known for their affordability, although some parts of the states offer less costly housing, especially farther from urban centers. Rounding out the list of the top 10 states where millennials are moving are Montana, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Virginia. 

“It goes without saying that most of these states, particularly Washington, California and New York, are ‘work hard, play hard’ states,” Gatea. “Access to a cosmopolitan lifestyle and plenty of opportunities in terms of jobs, personal development, and entertainment also comes with a very high cost of living.” 

Gen Z Makes North Dakota a Hot Spot

The top states attracting members of the Gen Z generation include North Dakota, the District of Columbia, Vermont, Iowa, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Utah, Wisconsin and West Virginia. 

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“North Dakota had the highest percentage of Gen Zers as a share of total move-ins to the state at 52.5% of those who moved there in 2022,” Gatea says. “Most likely they were attracted by a burgeoning economy and a generally affordable cost of living.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, North Dakota registered the highest growth in real GDP during the first quarter of 2023 among all 50 states.

“Its growing economy attracts young people, and the influx of a young and dynamic population stimulates economic growth even more,” Gatea says. “Also, North Dakota still registers a relatively affordable cost of living, with the median home value at $237,000.”

Some of the other places that rank high on the list of states that attract Gen Zers, such as D.C., Massachusetts, Washington, West Virginia, and New York, are well-known hot spots for higher education, so it’s only natural that a higher share of Gen Zers relocates to these areas, she says.

“However, Iowa, which saw about 24,000 Gen Zers move there in 2022 (32% of all newcomers) is most likely attractive for young people due to its low cost of living and spectacular outdoors,” Gatea says. “The state registers the sixth-lowest median home value among the 50 states and offers a slower pace of life, in line with Gen Zers’ proclaimed preferences. Vermont goes much in the same vein, albeit at a higher cost of living.”

With Gen Zers being the first digitally native generation, and with many of them starting their professional lives in the middle of a pandemic, it’s natural that they’re very comfortable with the idea of remote working and even resistant to office-based jobs, Gatea says. 

“They also embrace full heartedly the principle of ‘working to live, not living to work’,” she says. “Choosing states that provide low living costs and a slower pace of life while also not necessarily depending on the local job market seems to have become a trademark for Gen Zers.” 


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