Educated Millennials Are Moving to Metro Areas

Educated Millennials Are Moving to Metro Areas

Educated Millennials Are Moving to Metro Areas

Millennials is defined as those between the ages of 18 and 34 as of Y 2015.

Millennials have become the nation’s largest generation cohort, surpassing Baby Boomers in Y 2016. And because of their unique living and spending habits, so far by passing up many of the features of suburban living that appealed to their parents, many cities are working to attract and hold Millennials for a long to come.

City planners have been working diligently to appeal to the most educated in this most educated generation, believing that their entrepreneurial spirit and tech savvy interests can spur innovation and urban revitalization.

The planners have decided that Millennials are Key remaking cities.

The Big Q: Is that truth of hope?

Analysts have recently studied the US Census American Community Survey numbers in our nation’s largest metropolitan areas to determine if educated Millennials are locating in cities in numbers greater than other groups, and identified places where their numbers are growing the most.

In the study they gathered recent data from Y’s 2010 and 2015 on population growth for each of the 33 Metro areas with a population above 2-M in Y 2015, examining population growth for the core cities within each Metro area, grouping together core cities that could be deemed as “twin” cities including Minneapolis/St. Paul, Tampa/St. Petersburg, San Francisco/Oakland, St Louis Metro, and Riverside/San Bernardino.

The study 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,  it developed a ratio of people added to cities relative to those outside cities, to determine if any city Vs suburb relationship exists in the population data.

 After that, it took the same approach to examine the number of educated Millennials meaning 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.

Below are the 2 tables of pulled ACS data.

1st 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 higher:


The take away from this analysis:

Core cities are growing at a slightly stronger rate than outlying suburban areas.  Taken together, between Y’s 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 frame, 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 each 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 3rd highest number of educated Millennials, after New York and Los Angeles.  However, between Y’s 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 1% in the same frame. An interesting transition is taking place in Chicago.  Despite the city representing about 25% of the metro area’s population, about 50% 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 5 years, educated Millennials continue to make up a very small percentage of overall residents within these cities.  Educated Millennials make up less than 4% 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  core cities, educated Millennials are still primarily settling in the suburbs. In San Diego, there’s still a near 1-1 relationship of educated Millennials’ location decision, but in Charlotte, San Antonio and Sacramento, nearly 2X as many educated Millennials are choosing the suburbs over the city.

From a long arc perspective, this has to be good news for most US cities.

For 2-H of the 20th 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?

My guess is that the next 3-5 years will tell us much about how educated Millennials, and all Millennials, will remake our Metro landscapes in the years to come.

By Peter Saunders.

Paul Ebeling, Editor

Have a terrific weekend.


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