Which is the subject of this article from New Geography.
Much is made, and rightfully so, about the future trends of America’s demographics, notably the rise of racial minorities and singles as a growing part of our population. Yet far less attention is paid to a factor that will also shape future decades: where families are most likely to settle.
However hip and cool San Francisco, Manhattan, Boston or coastal California may seem, they are not where families are moving.
In a new study by the Chapman Center for Demographics and Policy, we found that the best cities for middle-class families tend to be located outside the largest metropolitan areas. This was based on such factors as housing affordability, migration, income growth, commute times, and middle-income jobs. Many of our best-rated cities tend to mid-sized. The three most highly rated were Des Moines, Iowa, Madison, Wis., and Albany, N.Y., all with populations of less than 1 million. Among our top 10 metropolitan areas for families, five are larger than this, but only two—the Washington, D.C. area and Minneapolis-St. Paul—are among the nation’s 20 largest metropolitan areas.
Our bottom 10 includes the media’s favorite two cities, New York and Los Angeles, also the largest metropolitan areas in the nation. Three other large metropolitan areas rank in the bottom 10: Miami, Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif., and Las Vegas. The hipster cities, in other words, are not so amenable to the new generation of young families.
Why Families Head to the Suburbs
In the 1960s, renowned urbanist Jane Jacobs asserted that “suburbs must be a difficult place to raise children.” But they remain popular nonetheless. According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, in 2011, children between ages 5 and 14 constituted about 7 percent in urban core Central Business Districts (CBDs) across the country, less than half the level in newer suburbs and exurbs. In Manhattan, singles comprise half of all households, based on the American Community Survey. The highest percentage of women over 40 without children, notes geographer Ali Modarres, can be found in expensive and dense Washington, D.C.
One clear example of the new child-free city is San Francisco, which is now home to 80,000 more dogs than children. In 1970, children made up 22 percent of the population of San Francisco. Four decades later, they comprised just 13.4 percent of the town’s 800,000 residents. Nearly half of parents of young children there, according to 2011 survey conducted by the city, planned to leave in the next three years, largely due to high housing costs. This pattern is accelerating: Since 2011, less-dense ZIP codes have been growing far faster than the more dense ones.
The desire for affordable, single-family homes is driving this trend. Over 80 percent of married couples live in such housing, compared to barely 50 percent of households of unrelated individuals and single. The choice to move to the suburbs also reflects the preference for a safer setting. FBI crime statistics show the violent crime rate in the core cities of major metropolitan areas is nearly 3½ times higher than in the suburbs. Given the murder rate in many major cities, this gap can be expected to grow.
Another key motivation in choosing the suburbs, especially for families with children, is frustration with the quality of urban public education. Suburban schools still consistently out-perform those of inner cities in terms of achievement, graduation and college admission.