Americans aren’t moving back to the cities. Just 20- and 30-somethings.
But actually, not all 20- and 30-somethings are moving back to the cities. Only those with a four-year college degree and incomes in the top 40 percent are.
And not even all 20- and 30-somethings with a four-year college degree and incomes in the top 40 percent are moving back into cities. Mostly the ones without school-age kids are.
And if you thought that was it, it turns out that not all 20- and 30-somethings with a four-year college degree in the top 40 percent of income without school-age children are moving back into cities. It’s mostly just the ones that are white.
Such is the Russian nesting doll of myth-busting from the housing researcher Jed Kolko in a post today on urbanization. There was a period, shortly after the collapse of the housing bubble, when it really did look like the United States might collapse back into dense cities, in a dramatic return to pre-1950s America. Instead, it turns out that America isn’t ready to abandon the suburban project. They just like sun and space too much. In fact, most American cities wouldn’t even be growing today if not for immigration.
If the U.S. is returning to any previous period, it’s looking like another Gilded Age—one based on geography. The richest 10 percent of households were most likely to move into dense urban areas between 2000 and 2014. The poorest 10 percent fled cities the fastest. Meanwhile, the U.S. is becoming much more urban for the white childless elite, and much more suburban for everybody else. The fastest growing suburbs are the most prototypically suburban: They have the lowest density, the greatest need for cars, and the most single-family neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the fastest growing urban areas among this privileged demographic are the most dense—places like Manhattan and Brooklyn, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C.
In this way, Chicago might be a harbinger for other great American cities. It is a shrinking city—the fastest-shrinking major city in the country—dealing with slowing immigration, high-income ZIP codes that are pricing out the middle class, and an aging population that is feeling the magnetic tug of the sunbelt. It is easy to imagine this story replicated around the country.
In the meantime, if you are a 20- or 30-something white college graduate without children earning more than 60 percent of the country, it might seem to you like everybody is moving to the cities. That might be because the only micro-demographic that’s pouring into cities is the one that perfectly describes you.