Millennials, those persons roughly between the ages of 18 and 34 as of 2015, have become the nation’s largest generation cohort, surpassing Baby Boomers in 2016. You may be aware that, because of this youthful generation’s unique living and spending habits, so far by eschewing many of the features of suburban living that appealed to their parents, many cities are pinning their future hopes on attracting and holding on to Millennials for decades to come. In particular, cities have been working hard to appeal to the most educated persons in this most educated generation, believing that their entrepreneurial spirit and technological savvy can spur innovation and urban revitalization.
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.
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