Where you live means more than just the sports team you cheer for, or your favorite local coffee shop: It affects the kind of hobbies you enjoy, the people you meet, and the work you do.
You often choose your home by default: hanging around the place you went to college or moving back to where you grew up. But suppose you have the option to call somewhere totally new “home” due to a job opportunity or growing market in your chosen field. How do you approach the decision to make a move not based on your current circumstances, but your future?
Thinking about a current decision with a future mindset is easier said than done, in part due to “present bias”—a behavioral tendency where people prefer more immediate rewards over those which are more long-term ones. The good news? By acknowledging this tendency as you make decisions, you can discern between when it’s helping you make the right choice, and when it’s clouding your judgment.
The price tag of a big city or a cross-country move may not seem very appealing at first glance. But when you look at the move as a long-term opportunity, the return on initial investment could be huge for both your career and your life. Yes, city living is expensive, but you’re investing in more than new furniture and a fancy apartment—you’re also investing in a place that could positively impact your career for years to come.
There’s a host of data that points to the economic benefits of moving to a large city: People who live in big cities may pay more in rent, but they also tend to have higher incomes. What’s more, upward mobility rates are highest in pricey cities such as San Francisco and New York. So even if your starting salary is low in a big city, chances are you’ll be be able to climb the ladder faster than in a rural or suburban area.
“The move you are making is not only for tomorrow or for the year after. It’s a long-term investment to go to a new place,” Charlotta Mellander, a visiting faculty member at the Martin Prosperity Institute, says. “Everything comes with a cost, so consider carefully where you want to live in terms of where you want to invest.”
Even if a big city isn’t your top destination, moving away from where you grew up or went to college could offer the boost you need to jump-start your career. Our research shows that recent graduates who moved away from the place they went to school make $23,000 per year more than those who stayed near their school after graduation.
Yes, moving to a new place where you know no one is hard to fathom when you’re comfortable where you are, but that’s just your present bias working against you. Falling into this bias could mean losing out on the potential opportunities of a new place.
“With present bias, we want to push cost to the future and benefits to the present,” Linnea Gandhi, managing director at behavioral science consulting firm TGG Group, says. “It’s all fuzzy in the future for us—we don’t have this steep feeling of immediacy, which is why we tend to overvalue the present.”
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“Work is the most important factor whenever I decide to move—my motto is to go where the money takes you. I’m single, don’t have any children or pets, and don’t have a car. I have very little tying me down. I buy a plane ticket, pack up my three suitcases, call a Lyft and go. That’s how swiftly I can move. ”
Of course, the decision shouldn’t simply be a cost-benefit analysis for the future. Consider your financial priorities today, as well.
If you’re hoping to buy a house and start a family, for example, it’s better to look to places where you’re able to afford a “middle-class life” according to Joel Kotkin, author of The Human City and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. That might be a city such as Raleigh, Nashville, and Austin.
However, if you’re still looking to grow your career, it’s better to look toward a larger city, one with a higher cost of living.