A recent article in Time, based largely on the research of UCLA demographer Dowell Myers, proclaims that U.S. cities are hitting “peak Millennial.” The gist of Myers’s argument is that we’ve seen the high water mark for the effect of Millennials on urban growth, and that like previous generations, they’re going to decamp to the suburbs, and this whole “back to the city” movement will be over.
The key factoids in the Time article are the observations that the number of Millennials in three cities—Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles—have declined between 2015 and 2016 according to the latest American Community Survey tabulations. The headline shouts the claim that the young are leaving cities: “These Cities Have Already Reached ‘Peak Millennial’ as Young People Begin to Leave.”
We’re told that:
Millennials flocked to U.S. cities over the past decade, but in some places, the migration appears to be reversing… Myers says it’s only a matter of time before millennials head to the suburbs for more space.
What this seems to suggest is that young people have somehow become disenchanted with cities.
As I’ve pointed out before, there’s a problem with equating “Millennials” and “young people.” In the past decade or so, all of the 20-somethings in the United States were Millennials, and most of the Millennials were 20-somethings, so it wasn’t far off the mark to use to two terms interchangeably. But, inexorably, time and the aging process are moving Millennials out of the “young people” category. And that’s really what these numbers show: the oldest Millennials (per Myers’s definition) are now 36; in 2007 the oldest were just 27. There’s never been any question that there is a life-cycle effect: 36-year-olds tend to be much more likely than 27-year-olds to live in suburbs rather than cities.