I’m not sure what to make of this, but it’s interesting anyway: Young and Restless in a Knowledge Economy (pdf document), a report on how different urban areas around the US have fared in attracting new residents who are young and well educated.
Now, the report’s author clearly believes that attracting talented and entrepeneurial 25-to-34 year olds is a key determinant of a city’s economic vitality—a perspective that I’m not entirely sure that I share. (I think, for example, about this Brookings report that shows that cities can have little population growth but plenty of economic growth, as measured by income per capita.)
Be that as it may, the report has a couple of very interesting nuggets about Seattle and Portland. First, central Seattle (or, really, Seattle within a 3 mile radius of the central business district) saw the fastest population growth rate for young adults of any major city the authors looked at. Between 1990 and 2000 the number of residents between the ages of 25 and 34 in and around downtown Seattle grew by more than a quarter. This is especially striking since this group includes the "baby bust" generation born during the low-fertility years of the early 1970s; nationally, the absolute number of people in that age range fell over the decade, as the baby boomers aged and were replaced by the baby busters. (For example, outside of a 3 mile radius from downtown Seattle, the late-20’s to early-30’s population in the greater Seattle area fell by 5 percent.) So the bigger demographic trends make the concentration of young people in Seattle all the more remarkable.
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This trend—Seattle attracting lots of young adults—shows itself in other ways as well. In 1990, 25-to-34 year olds were slightly more likely than the average Seattle resident to choose a home close to downtown. But by 2000, they were much, much more likely to choose a home near the city center. Among the cities the report considers, only in Chicago do young people show a greater predilection for living in or near downtown.
Now for Portland. The city ranked third, behind Seattle and Denver, in attracting young adults to the urban core; the population of 25-to-34 year olds in the neighbhorhoods surrounding the city center grew by a little over 20 percent. But Portland’s suburbs also did surprisingly well in attracting young people. In fact, metropolitan Portland ranked 3rd among all cities in its "relative attractiveness" to young adults—the 25-to-34 demographic grew 9 percent faster than the population overall, despite the fact that nationwide the absolute numbers of people in that age group fell.
Much has been made about how few kids there are in Northwest cities. (A year ago, the "fact" that there are more dogs than kids in Seattle madetherounds—with some interesting discussion in David Sucher’s City Comforts blog.) And there’s more than a grain of truth here—there really aren’t a lot of kids in the city limits of Portland and Seattle, relative to the to total size of the population. This report may give some clues about why that’s so. Well educated women tend to have children later in life; and many of the new young adults in Portland and Seattle have completed 4 year college degrees. So even though Seattle and Portland have attracted lots of people in their peak childbearing years, they seem to have been particularly attractive to precisely the kinds of people who delay childbearing, or who choose to have smaller families.
Which leads to an apparent irony—the very same trend that some folks are treating as a harbinger of economic growth is causing others to wring their hands over the "childlessness" of the cities. But for my part, I’m not sure that these trends are worth celebrating or condemning. They just are.