There are a couple of things that make Pennsylvanians unique among Americans. The first: we tend to stay put. If we do leave, we tend to come back, if only after retirement. Both sets of my grandparents, for example, relocated to New Jersey for their jobs, but moved back to Pennsylvania after they retired.
The paramount theme in analyzing the mobility of Pennsylvanians is their reluctance to move, however long or short the distance. Such relative immobility is most sharply illustrated by the fact that 84.5% of the state’s residents in 1980 were born in Pennsylvania, a figure well above the comparable values for other states. Such uniqueness persists as we examine movements within the state, local moves within a neighborhood, city, or county and moves from county to county within Pennsylvania. Such attachment to home and locality is not attributable to the usual economic factors, since it seems to prevail during economically slack periods as well as in more fortunate times. The only logical explanation would seem to lie in the nature of the regional culture, in some traditional inclinations, whether conscious or not, to remain amidst familiar surroundings.
–Wilbur Zelinsky, “Human Patterns,” in The Atlas of Pennsylvania (Temple University Press, 1989), p. 131
Coupled with a strong attachment to our local area is a very weak sense of regional identity. I sometimes like to put on a Pennsylvania jingoism for sheer comic effect: nobody ever gets all puffed up about being from the Keystone State the way they might if they were from, say, the Lone Star State. Zelinksy again:
In an analysis of terms of locational and cultural significance appearing in the names of various enterprises listed in telephone directories for 276 metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada, I discovered that nowhere within metropolitan North America is there a weaker sense of regional identity than in the cities of western Pennsylvania and adjoining portions of neighboring states. Furthermore, in the eastern half of the state the situation is not much better. …
How do we account for this apparent lack of self-knowledge or interest, so different from the insistent awareness of Southernness or New Englandness elsewhere? The failure to appreciate the regional personality of the PCA [Pennsylvania Cultural Area] (aside from its barns and Mennonites) stems largely, I suspect, from its sheer middleness. … [M]uch that was to become national and ‘mainstream’ later is found in the PCA, too prosaic and too normal to stir up comment.
–Wilbur Zelinsky, “Cultural Geography,” in A Geography of Pennsylvania, ed. by E. Willard Miller (Penn State Press, 1995), p. 151
In other words, we are unique in our lack of a sense of uniqueness. It’s kind of hard to pin us down — and we’re just fine with that.
It is seldom possible to make a statement about Pennsylvania that holds true of the whole state — and many observers have simply thrown up their hands in frustration. There is a good deal of evidence, however, that its inhabitants like it that way. Pennsylvania’s mosaic of varied, complex landscapes offers its residents an extraordinary range of environmental choices within a very short distance.
–Pierce Lewis, “The Pennsylvania Mosaic,” in The Atlas of Pennsylvania, p. 7