Is the infamous Seattle Freeze a real thing — are we a city of icy, unwelcoming introverts?

If it is just a myth, it’s certainly a persistent one. The first mention of the Seattle Freeze in print was in 2005, in The Seattle Times, but people have told me they remember hearing the term as far back as the 1980s.

In a widely read column published last month in The Seattle Times opinion section, a recent transplant described how she’s been so traumatized by the Freeze that she’s planning to move away. Predictably, that set off a chain reaction of responses, debating whether the Freeze is fact or fiction.

It certainly isn’t something that you can prove or disprove with data, so it may seem like an odd choice of topic for this column. But the Freeze, if it’s real, is a characteristic of the people who live here, and so it raises some questions in relation to our city’s demographics.

You probably already know that Seattle is, by and large, a city of transplants — and while that’s always been true, it’s become more pronounced over time. The most recent census figures show that of every 10 adult residents of Seattle, fewer than 3 were born in Washington. (If you go back to 1980, close to 40% were born in-state).

And while the data doesn’t get more specific, you have to figure that a sizable chunk of those Washington-born Seattle residents are actually from Wenatchee or Walla Walla or some other far-flung part of the state.


So if most of us living in Seattle grew up well outside the Freeze’s sphere of influence, where is this insidious cultural phenomenon coming from?  Are a few born-and-bred Seattleites perpetrating this thing against the vast majority of us who moved here from somewhere else?

It seems unlikely. If you’re a newcomer to Seattle, you can probably count the native-born Seattleites you’ve met on one hand. If you feel like people here are unwelcoming, chances are those folks are transplants, just like you.

Roughly 50,000 people move to the city annually from out of state in recent years (and a smaller number move away). So if the Freeze is real, how has it persisted all these years, despite the constant churn of Seattle’s population?

I suppose it could mean that an unusually high percentage of the people moving to Seattle from around the country and the world are cold and unfriendly by nature, but that seems pretty far-fetched.

Perhaps people are perfectly friendly when they arrive in Seattle, but once they’ve lived here for a while, they turn inward. After they (somehow) manage to make a few friends, they close the door on meeting anyone new.

Maybe that’s it, but I can’t imagine what it is about Seattle that would be causing this to happen. I’ll leave the hypothesizing to others who are convinced of the Freeze’s existence.


Personally, I have my doubts. I suspect some of it is confirmation bias. If you moved to San Diego or Omaha or Atlanta and encountered an unfriendly person, you’d probably just shrug it off. But if the same thing happens to you in Seattle, you think, “Aha! I just experienced the Seattle Freeze.”

A little more on the data: With a little less than 30% of Seattle adults (18 and up) born in Washington, where are the rest of us from?

Nearly 300,000 of us — almost half of the city’s adult population — were born in another U.S. state. California ranks far and away as the No. 1 state, at around 55,000 people. Vermont is at the other end of the spectrum, with fewer than 200 originating from the Green Mountain State.

More than 21,000 Seattle adults were born in China, ranking second after California. In total, about 134,000 Seattle adults were born outside the U.S.