With all the conversations around gentrification and changing cityscapes, there are some interesting trends getting overlooked. According to The Wall Street Journal, “New York lost almost 38,000 people age 25 to 39 last year, a decline that was roughly twice the size that it experienced each of the previous three years.” This population change also coincided with the city’s first overall population decline in more than a decade. And New York isn’t alone in these declines. The same article describes large cities losing tens of thousands of millennials and young Gen X residents last year, a trend that is now a streak of young adult populations shrinking in cities for the 4th year in a row.
So, what’s happened to this generation that has been stereotyped for its city-loving habits? Although millenials are having fewer children than previous generations, the ones who are having children are counting the costs. And a big cost of living in most urban areas is either choosing bad schools or paying the premium for private schools. City officials blame poor schools and housing as the main reasons people are leaving. Katherine Levine Einstein, an assistant professor of political science at Boston University joined the conversation, describing the millennial generation this way, “They might prefer to stay in the city for lifestyle reasons but might end up leaving because of the quality of the public goods” (meaning schools).
But here’s the other thing we know about most millennials - the ones with a college education are often strapped with college debt and are not even close to having a savings account. Therefore, private school is out of the picture for many millennial families. In fact, the main reason millennials are having fewer children in the first place comes down to their fears about what they can and can’t afford. So, what are they more likely to choose? No matter how much they love the city, at some point they’ll opt for cheaper housing and better schools (and sadly, longer commutes).
For example, Lindsay and Terry Mahaffey moved to Apex, NC, a suburb of Raleigh, around the time it was named one of the best places to live. And it's no surprise that “good schools” was at the top of their list for reasons to move. “The back-to-the-city trend has reversed,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, citing last year’s census data. And Apex is only one of many suburbs with massive population growth.
As educated millennials try to plan for more financial stability by leaving cities, those who cannot afford to leave will be left behind in failing school systems. With less financial diversity in neighborhoods, it also means poorer children will have less opportunity for social capital and networking. This exodus also affects what goods and services are available in communities as businesses are known to follow this type of outward migration.
Cities are going to have to address these issues that drive financially secure families out of town. If more families stay, it would mean less poverty, less crime, higher property taxes and ultimately better life outcomes for all kids in poor neighborhoods. Research suggests that families with school age children are more likely to stay put if they are given more freedom to choose a high quality education for their children.
The real question is how do we give families better opportunities in urban areas? Learn more about targeted geographic solutions here!