(Note: This was originally posted at my Forbes site two weeks ago, and quickly became my most popular article in the short nine months since I’ve started there. I’ve changed the title to more accurately reflect what I’m documenting here; I didn’t do a migration analysis that would indicate flows in or out of cities, simply a count of persons in the age cohort over time. In some cases there could be large numbers of young people who age into the cohort in the timeframe. But I think there are reasonable inferences and correlations that could be made, short of further statistical analysis. Anyway, please check it out. -Pete)
So far, it’s been accepted that Millennials are at the forefront of remaking cities. But is it true? If so, where is it most apparent? Are there cities that at the vanguard, and others that lag?
I recently crunched a bunch of U.S. Census American Community Survey numbers in our nation’s largest metropolitan areas to determine if educated Millennials are indeed locating in cities in numbers greater than other groups, and identified places where their numbers are growing the most.
Here’s what I did. I gathered recent data (from 2010 and 2015) on population growth for each of the 33 metropolitan areas with a population above 2 million in 2015. I examined population growth for the core cities within each metro area, grouping together core cities that could be deemed as “twin” cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul, Tampa/St. Petersburg, San Francisco/Oakland, and Riverside/San Bernardino). I also examined population growth for the metro areas while factoring out the core cities, to see how they measured up against the cores. That establishes a baseline for population growth patterns within core cities and outlying suburban areas. Lastly, I developed a ratio of persons added to cities relative to those outside cities, to determine if any city versus suburb relationship exists in the population data.
After that, I took the same approach to examine the number of educated Millennials — those between ages 25 and 34 with a bachelor’s degree or more — living within and outside of core cities. Just as with overall population growth, patterns become apparent for educated Millennials living inside and outside of core cities. Here are the two tables of pulled ACS data. First the overall population growth rates:
And then population growth rates for educated Millennials, or those age 25 to 34 with a bachelor’s degree or more:
Here’s what I take away from this:
Core cities are growing at a slightly stronger rate than outlying suburban areas. Taken together, between 2010 and 2015 the core cities of the 33 largest metro areas added 1.09 persons for every one person added to the outlying suburban areas. Over that period, cities grew by 6.1%, while the metro areas with cities excluded grew 5.5%. New York City led the way here, adding 2.17 persons for every one person added to its suburban areas.
Core cities are attracting far more educated Millennials than outlying suburban areas. Nationally, the core cities of the 33 largest metro areas added 1.52 educated Millennials for every one added to their surrounding suburbs. In all, core cities in 27 of 33 metro areas performed better than suburban areas in this regard. Chicago far outperformed all other core cities in gaining educated Millennials, pulling in nearly 16 for every one added to the surrounding suburbs.
Chicago is a significant outlier in its attraction and concentration of educated Millennials. The Chicago numbers are worthy of closer inspection. At the metro level, as expected, Chicago has the third highest number of educated Millennials, after New York and Los Angeles. However, between 2010 and 2015, that number grew only 7.2%, the lowest figure of the 33 metros examined. Furthermore, the number of educated Millennials in outlying suburban areas grew less than one percent in the same period. But an interesting transition is taking place in Chicago. Despite the city representing about one-quarter of the metro area’s population, about half of educated Millennials in the metro area are choosing to live in the city, and that number is rapidly rising.
Despite very slow growth or even negative growth in their metro areas, St. Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Cleveland outperform their outlying suburban areas in their attraction and concentration of educated Millennials. Perhaps in part due to their collections of major research universities within their boundaries (Washington University, Wayne State, Carnegie Mellon and Case Western Reserve, among others), Rust Belt cities and metros that are still losing population are able to transform demographically through their attraction of educated Millennials.
Several core cities (Cleveland, Detroit, Riverside/San Bernardino) are making substantial gains in educated Millennials, but building from very small bases. Despite making impressive gains over the last half decade, educated Millennials continue to make up a very small percentage of overall residents within these cities. Educated Millennials make up less than four percent of all persons in Cleveland, Detroit and Riverside/San Bernardino, far less than the 8.4% in the core cities of the 33 largest metro areas.
Several other core cities (San Diego, San Francisco/Oakland, Portland, Charlotte, San Antonio, Sacramento) are finding more educated Millennials locating in outlying suburban areas rather than in core cities. Within these six core cities, educated Millennials are still primarily settling in the suburbs. In San Diego, there’s still a near one-to-one relationship of educated Millennials’ location decision, but in Charlotte, San Antonio and Sacramento, nearly twice as many educated Millennials are choosing the suburbs over the city.
From a long arc perspective, this has to be good news for most U.S. cities. For the latter half of the twentieth century, persons of all ages moved away from core cities. This represents a considerable turnaround for cities, and has the potential to provide a sturdy foundation for future city growth. Where young educated people choose to go, the people who employ them will follow, and so will the services and amenities that appeal to them. The data above shows that some cities are easily 20 years or more into that transition, while others are just turning the corner.
What we don’t know, however, is how much of this shift is impacted by other factors. For example, do educated Millennials demonstrate a decided preference for city living, or in deferring suburban living as long as possible? Does student loan debt influence home purchase decisions? Would a wider variety of housing types in suburbia lead to changes among all Millennials?
It’s hard to say now, but my guess is that the next 3-5 years will tell us much about how educated Millennials, and all Millennials, will remake our metropolitan landscape in the decades to come.