For more than three decades, the MacArthur Foundation has been distributing its no-strings-attached “genius” grants, annual awards given to creative individuals. And, ahead of the next round of recipients being announced in late September, the foundation decided to look at the geography of the its 897 grantees.

What they found was that MacArthur fellows are highly mobile. Of the 701 born in the United States since the award kicked off in 1981, 79 percent lived outside their birth state when they received the award. Census data, on the other hand, show that just 30 percent of the general population and 42 percent of the college-educated population live outside of their birth state.

The location of the fellows at the time of the award in part reflected population centers: New York tops the list with 188 fellows; California was home to 172. But other less-populous states claimed a big share of grantees. Massachusetts was home to 107 fellows at the time of the award; Illinois was home to 44; and New Jersey was home to 41. Washington, D.C., was next, with 32.


Where MacArthur fellows lived when they won the award. (MacArthur Foundation)

There are all sorts of reasons this may be true, some easily apparent and others not as much. California and Massachusetts are home to vibrant high-tech sectors, while New York and California are home to some of the nation’s largest urban centers. But, when adjusted for population, Washington, D.C., was far overrepresented, claiming 5.3 fellows per 100,000 people. Massachusetts came next with 1.6 per 100,000, followed by New York and Rhode Island with just under 1 fellow, and Connecticut with just over 0.5. (It’s worth noting here that for some fellows pinpointing a current location is difficult. Some live in one state and work in another, or otherwise split their time in more than a single state.)

Many fellows were born in Pennsylvania, which ranked third behind New York and California in terms of fellows born there. While 52 fellows were born in Pennsylvania, just 22 lived there at the time they received their award. Ohio was home to 17 fewer fellows at the time of the award than were born there, while Florida was, on net, down by 11. Texas has been home to 10 fewer fellows at the time of the award than were born in that state.


Where MacArthur fellows were born and where they lived at the time of the award. (MacArthur Foundation)