It’s No Longer Feasible to Raise a Family in Most American Cities

Urban areas becoming "entertainment machines" for the young, rich and childless

San Francisco
Millennials in the Cow Hollow neighborhood of San Francisco (Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images).
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The future of our cities may not include families, and that could have far-reaching consequences.

That’s the conclusion reached by Derek Thompson at The Atlantic, who notes that for the first time in four decades (in a non-recession year), the population of New York shrank. The number of babies born in New York has declined 9 percent since 2011, while the net number of New Yorkers leaving the city has more than doubled.

Who’s leaving? People with young kids. The narrative Thompson suggests is that a city’s “mean streets” have become hip, brunch-able neighborhoods. From there, rich companies (probably tech) move in. That increased wealth means increased housing prices, which isn’t conducive to young parents with children.

It’s not just New York: high-density metropolises such as San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., have all seen an influx of rich, college-educated whites without children, a demographic that’s grown by 20+% since 2000. In that same timeframe, there’s been a much smaller increase of 25-49 year olds with either no children or children under six, along with a decrease of people in that age group with no college background.

Meanwhile, the only growth in cities likes New York or Philadelphia can mostly be attributed to immigrants, who also tend to leave for the suburbs if and when they prosper.

Quoting sociologists Richard Lloyd and Terry Nichols Clark, Thompson notes the cities are now “entertainment machines” for the young, rich and childless. But they’re also places where people work longer hours and are less inclined to have children … all attributes which could lead to a smaller working class, declining population and (worst-case scenario) fiscal catastrophe as the divide grows between rich urban centers and the country’s poorer rural areas.

As Thompson notes, “The modern American city is not a microcosm of life but a microslice of it. It’s becoming an Epcot theme park for childless affluence, where the rich can act like kids without having to actually see any.”

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