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As population grays, more people stay put

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WASHINGTON — The South and West are still hot destinations for people moving out of state, but for the past 15 years an aging American population has increasingly been leaving moving boxes in the attic and suitcases in the back of the closet.

New estimates released Wednesday by the Census Bureau show that 15.9 percent of the population, or about 43 million people, moved between March 1998 and March 1999, slightly less than the 16 percent who moved in the previous one-year period.

The pace of relocations last picked up between March 1984 and March 1985 when 20.2 percent of Americans changed addresses, up from 17.3 percent the previous year.

While the economy is good, analysts attribute the trend in large part to the graying of the American population, including the baby boom generation hitting middle age, and an increase in home ownership.

Baby boomers typically are defined as those born between 1946 and 1964.

In July 1999, the median age of the American population was 35.5, compared with 32.8 in July 1990. The National Association of Realtors said the median age of homebuyers jumped from 34 in 1989 to 39 in 1999

"The older you get, the less likely you are to move," Census demographer Carol Faber said.

There were 186 million homeowners in 1999, 26 million more than in 1988, and homeowners are less likely to relocate than renters, according to the Census Bureau. During the same time, the number of renters increased just 5 million, to 81 million. The agency didn't track that statistic before 1988.

When people do move, they don't go far. Between March 1998 and March 1999, 59 percent of movers relocated within the same county, and 20 percent went to another county in the same state.

Eighteen percent went out-of-state, and those people usually went to warmer locales in the South and West, reflecting decade-long shifts in the American population, Faber said.

The Northeast had the lowest moving rate among the nation's regions (11.7 percent), followed by the Midwest (15.1 percent). The South (17.1 percent) and the West (18.5 percent) were both above the national average.

The South and West continue to attract people because of corporate moves and retirement, said Kevin Roth, a senior economist at the National Association of Realtors. The average home buyer in the South moved 259 miles, Roth said, while two-thirds of home buyers in the Northeast moved 10 miles or fewer.