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San Diego Is a City of Transplants – But That’s Changing

More than half of San Diegans were born elsewhere, but one expert predicts that economic forces will cause the share of San Diegans who originally hail from the city to rise in years to come and that the percentage who come from elsewhere will drop.

A view of Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

This story is a part of The People’s Reporter, a feature where the public can submit questions, readers vote on which questions they want answered and VOSD investigates.

The question from Ashley Lewis of Ocean Beach: “San Diego is a city of transplants. What percentage of people who live here were actually born here, and how does that compare to other major cities?” (Disclosure: Lewis is a contractor for Voice of San Diego.)

To submit your question or vote on our next topic, click here.


San Diego’s long been known as a destination for out-of-towners drawn by military service or the California Dream, complete with beaches and sunshine.

Census data supports the anecdotes.

University of Southern California demographer and urban planning professor Dowell Myers analyzed 2017 U.S. Census survey data at Voice of San Diego’s request and estimated just 46 percent of San Diegans were born in California, the most specific location information available.

That means that more than half of San Diegans were born elsewhere.

The transplant ratio gets even more dramatic when you focus on San Diegans over 35.

Just over a third of San Diegans between 35 and 44 were born in the state and the percentage drops to 15 percent for San Diegans over 75, according to Myers’ review.

Here’s an overarching look at San Diego’s homegrown population compares with those who’ve stayed in their home state within California, and in the rest of the country.

Governing magazine dug into Census survey data several years ago, offering a glimpse at how San Diego compares with other cities.

The 2010 survey data the magazine reviewed estimated 45 percent of San Diegans were born in the state and that 29 percent of residents over 25 were homegrown.

Only a handful of the nation’s 20 largest cities, including San Francisco, Seattle and Phoenix, had smaller homegrown populations as a percentage of their total population.

Here’s a breakdown of how San Diego compared with the other major cities.

San Diego and California have both long been hubs for transplants, but Myers said the story is changing.

His analysis showed the vast majority of San Diegans over 45 originally hail from outside California, which he said reflects major influxes of migration from previous decades.

For example, Myers said, there were booms in the state’s population – and San Diego specifically – around World War II and during the 1980s.

Now California’s high cost of living and housing has contributed to reduced migration into the state.

And recent federal data shows more people are moving out of San Diego than moving here.

For that reason, Myers predicts the share of San Diegans who originally hail from the city will continue to rise in years to come and that the percentage who come from elsewhere will drop.

“It’s a city of transplants – it was – but increasingly it’s becoming homegrown,” Myers said.

Clarification: This post has been updated to clarify the comparisons between San Diego’s homegrown population and those of California and the U.S. — the latter two reflect the percentages of those who’ve stayed in their home states, not necessarily their home cities.

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