- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2001

Midwesterners who left town after graduating from high school in the 1950s are more likely to have college degrees and high-profile jobs, but they are less likely to have a traditional family, says a study that compares "leavers" and "stayers."
People who moved far away from their hometown after high school were "drawn to diversity" and new opportunities, said Abigail J. Stewart, a professor of psychology and women's studies at the University of Michigan.
Most "leavers" succeeded in advancing their educations and getting high-status jobs, she said, citing findings from a survey of 290 people who graduated from an unidentified Midwest high school in the late 1950s.
However, only about 42 percent of leavers had a traditional family, defined as being married to the same person "forever" and having children. Male leavers were less likely to have established a traditional family.
In contrast, high school graduates who stayed close to home were less likely to have college degrees or high-status jobs, but they enjoyed strong social and family networks that provided jobs, emotional support and recreational ties.
Stayers were more likely to have traditional families — 62 percent were still married to their original mate, according to the survey. Women who stayed home were most likely to be in a traditional family.
A major difference between the stayers and leavers appeared to be whether they viewed their hometown as a rich, comfortable and stable environment or a place that was "too confining," said Ms. Stewart, who will be presenting these findings Aug. 26 to an American Psychological Association conference. She conducted the survey with psychologist David G. Winter and two other colleagues.
In the 1950s, Ms. Stewart said, it's likely that most graduates stayed home or close to home — according to their study, 50 percent of graduates stayed within 25 miles of their hometown and 25 percent stayed in the Midwest.
But the 25 percent who left home went far away — most often to the West Coast, Northwest or Southwest — and became part of the permanent populations in those places, said Ms. Stewart.
The researchers found that both leavers and stayers, who are now in their 60s, were satisfied with their choices.
The people who left when they were young went on to establish new lives, and many became pillars in their community, said Ms. Stewart. They often return to their hometown for family and high school reunions, "but they don't go back for long" and "they're happy to leave," she said.
The stayers were also pleased with their decisions, she said.
One woman who stayed in town, married and had nine children and 33 grandchildren, proudly described her life as one that revolved around meals, evenings and vacations with family and friends. "My kids are all here," the woman said. When they "get to be a certain age, they get a job and then help the family out."
Ms. Stewart said that many stayers believe that having their children stay close to home is "a very important sign of success." In many cases, she added, the children have chosen to stay nearby, although "nearby" today may mean a couple hundred miles away.


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