Yes, The Millenials Really Are Returning To (Some) Cities

MLewyn's picture

It is becoming almost a cliche that millenials (that is, people in their 20s) are flocking to cities.  But does data bear this out?

I looked at Census data on two cities that had lost population throughout the late 20th century but gained people in the 2000s: Philadelphia and Washington, DC. (Why them?  Because I didn't think population-gaining cities were as interesting, since people of all age groups are moving to those places).

In Philadelphia, millenials are indeed a primary source of city growth: the city's 20-24 year old population increased by about 25% between 2000 and 2010 (from 117,609 to 146,717).   The city's 25-34 population similarly increased from 224,864 to 246,062.   Similarly, in Washington the 20-24 population increased by over 20 percent (51,823 to 64,110), as did the 25-34 population (101,762 to 124,745).  Population continued to stagnate or decrease among 35-54 year olds: the population of this group decreased in Washington (from 162,987 to 156,362) and Philadelphia (from 402,440 to 376,393).*

The other source of urban growth was 55-64 year olds.  In Philadelphia, this group increased from 125,216 to 160,808 (about 28%). Similarly, in Washington the number of 55-64 year olds increased from 49,783 to 63,977.  It could be that empty-nest baby boomers are moving to these cities in large numbers; however, I suspect that the aging of the baby boom generation is more likely to be the cause.  Nationally, the number of 45-64 year olds increased by about 23 percent from 2000 to 2010 (from about 37.5 milion people to about 46 million), while the national population increased by only about 10 percent (from 281.4 million to 308.7 million).

On the other hand, this growth did not spread into older age groups: the number of over-65 Washingtonians actually decreased slightly** and the number of over-65 Philadelphians decreased by over 10 percent (from 213,722 to 185,309).  Working people with adult children appear to like these cities, but retirees move elsewhere.   Similarly, these cities are less successful with children: the number of under-5 residents of each city increased by under 5 percent, and the number of 5-15 year olds continued to decline.

What's happening in more sprawling cities that include large masses of suburban territory within their borders?  I looked at sprawl poster child Houston.  Houston wasn't quite as successful as Philadelphia or Washington in attracting twentysomethings: its 20-24 population increased by only about 5 percent (from 161,754 to 171,086) as did its 25-34 population (from 354,444 to 373,985).  On the other hand, Houston retained older age groups more successfully: its population grew in every age group (except for 5-15 year olds, and then even its decline was quite small).***

What about declining cities?  I looked at Cleveland.  Its millenial population decreased: moderately for 20-24 year olds (from just over 32,000 to 30,637) and quite precipitously for 25-34 year olds (from 71,847 to 53,996).   In fact, the only age group that increased in Cleveland was the middle-aged and empty nesters: 55-64 year olds increased from 35,987 to 44,700, and 45-54 year olds also increased slightly.**** Similarly, in Buffalo, the number of 45-64 year olds increased while every younger age group (and persons over 65) declined as well.  But as noted above, this growth is more likely to come from the national increase in fiftysomethings than from migration. 

How do I interpret this data?  It seems to me that some cities really are very successful at attracting young talent.


*Actually increasing in the 45-54 age group, but only by 1% in Washington (from 75,310 to 75,703) and slightly more in Philadelphia (from 182,530 to 197,970).

**In particular, the city's 65-74 and over 85-population increased slightly, while the 75-84 group decreased.  In Philadelphia, the only senior age group that increased was persons over 85, and only by about 3 percent.

***From 294,329 to 288,348, a 2 percent drop.

****From 55,111 to 59,726.


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