Is moving away from the region of your upbringing driven more by career chasing or by starting a new identity, unfettered by the ties of the past?
The General Social Survey asks a series of questions about how important various aspects of life are to you. Let's compare people who have remained in the Census region they grew up in with those who live in an entirely different region (not just moving to the nearest city). Only white respondents have been counted, to remove race as a factor. Education levels differ between natives and upwardly mobile transplants, but they didn't affect the big picture here, so I left it out as a control variable.
Across all seven aspects of life that were asked about, natives were more likely to rate them "very important," although some showed a larger gap than others. The native-transplant gap is shown in percentage points in the list below, where the aspects of life are ranked from those with the narrowest gap to those with the largest gap.
Gap, Aspect of life
1, Politics and public life
2, Family and children (nuclear family)
2, Career and work
5, Free time and relaxation
7, Relatives (extended family)
8, Religion and church
12, Friends and acquaintances
I don't know how an ordinary person would interpret "politics and public life," but it doesn't differ much in importance to the two groups.
Neither does the importance of the nuclear family. However, the importance of the extended family shows a much larger gap.
Work doesn't show a huge gap, when you might have expected the transplants to be much more gung-ho about their career. They do seem to value long hours and getting lost in their job, though, as the gap widens for the importance of free time for having a life.
The largest gaps in importance are found for communal ties to genetic strangers -- church, and friends and acquaintances.
The main difference in what drives transplants appears to be a desire to cut themselves free from a dense, rich social network -- i.e. the one that they were integrated into wherever they grew up. They look the closest to natives when it comes to how much they value their marriage and children, but that's as far as it goes. They're less worried about their extended family playing a role in their lives, and they're even less concerned with links outside the family.
So, the transplant phenomenon is not so much about chasing an ever more high-status career, but simply about liberating yourself (as they would see it) from your family and community. Being part of at most an isolated nuclear unit, and nothing further, is a feature not a bug of transplant living.
Ultimately this boils down to the desire to not be held accountable to anyone else, to be free to indulge in whatever you want to. And not only in the sense of having a far dimmer spotlight of judgment being cast on your behavior, and therefore not feeling as much shame. But in the broader sense of not having any duties and responsibilities to fulfill toward others. Sure frees up more time to focus on yourself. Just think of how tied-down you'd be with duties if you still lived near your relatives and folks-you-know.
Of course, a transplant is only too willing to enjoy the benefits of the communal ties that, over the generations of natives who stayed put there, have built up the cultural integrity of whatever region he's moved to. He just doesn't want to contribute back to his adoptive culture. He may not even be a transient -- perhaps he plans to stay there for the rest of his life. He is more properly described as a social-cultural parasite.
Naturally there are degrees of variation among transplants, some being relatively benign and others being flagrant bloodsuckers and bite-the-hand-that-feed-ers. But it's important to emphasize the common desire to leave behind their rich social ties, in order to understand how the churn of inter-regional migration fragments communal bonds, both in the left-behind and the moved-into regions.
GSS variables: imppol, impfam, impwork, imprelax, impkin, impchurh, impfrend, regtrans, race