In a recent article on Portland, the normally rock solid Economist commits an error:
Indeed Portland, for all its history of Western grit, is remarkably white, young and childless.
Stop it, stop it, stop it.
Here’s the truth: Portland has quite a lot of children. (Though how little tykes would increase the city’s “Western grit” is a bit of a puzzler.)
The childless Portland thing is a lazy repetition of a myth (propagated by Joel Kotkin) that just won’t go away. But what’s really amazing about this myth, as Clark has pointed out, is that it’s pretty obviously false. A couple of minutes on The Googles and you clearly see that Portland has a heap of children.
While Portland has fewer children than many American big cities, it has more children per capita than Raleigh, Pittsburgh, Boston, Charleston, Fort Lauderdale, Santa Fe, Washington DC, or Tempe, just for example. And it’s got way more children than its nearest peers, Seattle and San Francisco. Portland is right about on par with places like Orlando, Denver, Richmond, Miami, and Minneapolis. In other words, it’s unremarkable.
What’s more, Portland is becoming more child friendly, at least relative to the rest of the country. (So is Seattle.) Nationally and regionally, the share of the population under 18 is declining, but the share of children nationally is declining 50 percent faster than it is in Portland. And in Oregon overall, the share of children is declining twice as fast as it is in Portland. In fact, at last count in 2008, Portland had pretty much the same share of children as the state of Oregon overall.
Can we put this one to bed now?
Photo is by Chris Darling from Wikimedia, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
You need to write this up in a slightly ironic way addressed to “Sirs:” and they’ll print it in the next issue!
So, what does Portland *do* differently than Seattle in order to achieve this? As usual, I love that Sightline is focused on the metrics, but some interpretation of the influences behind the metrics would be very helpful, too.
Eric de Place
Rodney,I wish I had some keen sense of the causal factors, but I don’t. I think it’s worth remembering that on most measures, Seattle and Pdx are pretty similar to one another, at least when seen in a national context. (It’s true that we in the NW like to play “mirror, mirror on the wall,” but our difference are usually pretty minor.) That said, there are a few things that are different:* Seattle’s unusually small share of children. (Among big cities, only San Fran has a smaller share.) But this isn’t a new phenomena; It goes back for decades.* Seattle’s population is extremely well-educated—number 1 in the country by some measures—much more so than Portland’s. (Again, the only big city with a comparable education level is SF.)* Incomes in Seattle are higher than in Portland, which is reflected in a somewhat higher cost of living. It could be that Seattle’s small share of children is largely just epiphenomenal of its basic demographics: well-educated, well-to-do folks tend not to have many children. Of course, this is just idle speculation! I basically have no idea what accounts for the difference.Oh, one last thing. Speaking as new parent in Seattle, I’m perplexed that the numbers say Seattle is so child-less because I sort of feel like the place is swarming with kids. And there are a surprising number of kid-friendly places wherever you go. I’d be very curious to hear what other folks think.
Eric, I live in NE Portland and there is a baby boom in the surrounding inner NE neighborhoods. Portland’s School district grew in population last year after 15 straight years of decline owing largely to 3 NE elementary schools. Parents in this part of Portland are very educated with both head’s of the households having post grad degrees. The main reasons I can see for the popularity of innercentral NE for young families is the relatively affordability of the neighborhood homes, a great public HS, entertainment options, and ease of bikingtaking public transit to downtown for work.
Interesting article. Having lived in Portland for over 40 years now, I would tend to agree that at a casual observance level there are fewer children. This tends to be shown by dwindling school enrollment and closing schools. My street in inner N Portland has only three children. The street I grew up on in the 1970s had over two dozen, thanks in large part to two particular families, each having five or more children.
Well said Eric. And I hope you take the advice to submit your letter to the Economist.