Hey, Dad: Family Still Matters!


America is getting older. Those over the age of 65, which currently account for 12% of the population, are expected to make up 20% of the population by 2030. People are marrying later, and a growing group, though still a distinct minority, is choosing not to have children. So if there are proportionately fewer traditional households, do families still matter in determining how places and regions grow?

The answer is yes. Using Census data, with the help of demographer Wendell Cox, we determined the regions in the U.S. with the biggest increases in children ages 5 to 17 (See table below). These family hot spots, which include Raleigh, N.C. (No. 1), Austin, Texas (No. 3) and Charlotte, S.C. (No. 4), are also some of the country’s biggest job generators. Many rank highly in the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. And seven of the ten leading regions for kids also have the fastest-growing foreign-born populations.

Take the region with the biggest increase in children, Raleigh. The North Carolina powerhouse experienced a nearly 50% jump in residents between ages 5 to 17 over the past decade. There are 70,000 more kids in the Triangle now than a decade ago. The region also experienced the second-highest overall population increase, the second-biggest surge in educated migrants and the third-highest job growth over the past two decades. It also ranked among those regions seeing the biggest jump in new immigrants.

Texas boasts many of the strongest economies in the country, which helps make it home to many of the leading metros for kids, including Austin (No. 3), Dallas (No. 7),  Houston (No. 9) and San Antonio (No. 10). These areas have emerged as major magnets for migrants from both within the country and abroad. Dallas and Houston, for example, now get more immigrants per capita than Washington, Chicago or Boston.

The rest of our top ten areas for kids were superstars in employment and population growth during the early years of this decade. Despite tougher times, Las Vegas (No. 2), Charlotte, S.C. (No. 4), Phoenix, Ariz. (No. 5), Atlanta (No. 6) and Orlando, Fla. (No. 8)" were all among leaders in overall population and also saw large increases in their numbers of immigrants.

One thing these regions share is affordable housing. Throughout the real estate bubble, housing prices in Raleigh, the Texas cities and Atlanta remained low. Today, prices have also plummeted in virtually all the other markets in our top ten, reinforcing their relative affordability.

A look at the bottom of the list also tells two stories. Some 28 of the 50 largest regions — we took out New Orleans due to the unusual circumstance of Hurricane Katrina — actually experienced an absolute decrease in the number of kids. Buffalo’s youth population dropped by almost 30,000 — a 13.6% decline. Many of the other cities at the bottom of the list came from the familiar ranks of slow- or negative-growth Rust Belt cities, including   Pittsburgh (No. 49), Rochester, N.Y. (No. 48) Cleveland (No. 47) and Detroit (No. 46).

Other areas losing youngsters included the nation’s three legitimate megacities — Los Angeles (No. 44), New York (No. 38) and Chicago (No. 35) — as well as areas long associated with the migration of the “young and restless,” including Boston (No. 37) and San Francisco (No. 36). Unlike young adults who move to Austin and Raleigh, the “young and restless” in these “hip and cool” centers may not hang around long enough to have children.

Jobs certainly are a big factor. Like the Rust Belt towns, most of these areas have experienced stagnant job growth or even lost employment over the decade. Another reason young families aren’t staying could be housing costs; all these cities rank among the most unaffordable in the nation. Even if you’re a family with a job, or two, it’s hard to raise the capital to make a down payment unless you have loads of stock in Google, or more likely, well-to-do parents.

Overall, the places with the absolute fewest kids ages 5 to 17 tend to be dense core cities. Children constitute barely 1 in 10 residents in the city of Seattle.  The urban cores of San Francisco, Washington and Boston show similar low rates.

The few kids in these regions are mostly in the suburbs.  The Seattle suburbs, for example, have 75% more kids than the city. This difference is driven both by growth in immigrants to more affordable, less dense suburban areas as well as the movements of people of child-bearing age out of the city.

So what do the numbers suggest about the link between families and regional dynamism? Some demographers and urbanists see the shrinking percentage of families as a sign of their increasing irrelevance to regional growth. One prominent demographer even called traditional families a kind of “endangered species,” although an awfully large one given that they still number one in five households and constitute, with their kids, roughly 90 million people, or almost 30% of the population.

In reality families are unlikely to go the way of the Dodo. As the large millennial generation, born between 1982 and 2003, enters their late 20s and early 30s, they will naturally begin to spawn. Generational researchers Morley Winograd and Mike Hais have studied millennial attitudes and have found that these young adults are much more family-oriented than Gen Xers and even their own baby boomer parents. Some 85% plan on getting married, and some 77% are inclined toward having children of their own.

It’s also critical to expand our definition of families. Once children leave their home, parents do not suddenly become footloose, fancy-free singles; they remain parents. Often they end up moving closer to their children, or sometimes the children make a “U-turn” to be close to Mom and Dad: Grandparents, after all, make excellent, and cheap, babysitters.

Of course, many of the more affluent and educated young adults will initially head to urban centers like New York, San Francisco or Boston as they seek potential spouses and begin their careers. But as they age, Winograd and Hais note, many of the older millennials want to establish roots in more affordable suburbs that are often closer to their work, especially ones with good schools. According to a survey by Frank Magid and Associates, a large plurality of millennials name suburbs as their “ideal” place to settle, more so than earlier generations.

The surprising uptick in the percentage of multigenerational households also suggests a growing role for extended families. Rather than shrinking, household size is beginning to grow again for the first time in decades.

According to the Pew Foundation, multi-generational households now make up 15% of households, up from 12% in 1980. If hard times continue this trend likely will accelerate. The percentage of single households has also started to flatten and has actually dropped among the elderly.

So what’s the lesson here? Ignore the claims of pundits on right and left who long have predicted the demise of the family. The family will prove more important than ever in determining where people live, work and, especially, settle.

None of this suggests a reprise of the Ozzie and Harriet 1950s. As social historian Stephanie Coontz points out, that era was an outlier created by peculiar circumstances including the Depression and the Second World War, which suppressed child-bearing, followed by a huge and sustained economic boom. For most of our history, Coontz notes, family relations in America have been far less orthodox, with grandparents, aunts, uncles, divorced parents and even siblings raising kids.

Margaret Mead once wrote, “No matter how many communes anybody invents, the family always comes back.” Those who have children, not those who do not, define and create the future. It’s a lesson companies and economic developers would do well to learn.

Fastest Growing Areas for 5-17 Year Olds
% Change
Raleigh 143,369 214,124 70,755 49.4%
Las Vegas 248,469 349,636 101,167 40.7%
Austin 223,958 307,256 83,298 37.2%
Charlotte 243,784 329,495 85,711 35.2%
Phoenix 619,044 794,609 175,565 28.4%
Atlanta 813,107 1,016,643 203,536 25.0%
Dallas-Fort Worth 1,035,311 1,276,916 241,605 23.3%
Orlando 300,729 367,908 67,179 22.3%
Houston 988,463 1,190,078 201,615 20.4%
San Antonio 353,599 418,439 64,840 18.3%
Riverside-San Bernardino 756,033 893,468 137,435 18.2%
Nashville 235,779 278,122 42,343 18.0%
Indianapolis 293,728 332,189 38,461 13.1%
Denver 402,259 453,645 51,386 12.8%
Tampa-St. Petersburg 387,074 432,851 45,777 11.8%
Salt Lake City 210,272 232,331 22,059 10.5%
Columbus 297,323 327,153 29,830 10.0%
Washington 878,018 957,157 79,139 9.0%
Sacramento 361,875 390,940 29,065 8.0%
Oklahoma City 205,122 221,354 16,232 7.9%
Jacksonville 216,124 233,109 16,985 7.9%
Portland 356,220 381,928 25,708 7.2%
Louisville 212,078 224,638 12,560 5.9%
Kansas City 356,234 376,038 19,804 5.6%
Richmond 204,359 215,599 11,240 5.5%
Memphis 249,261 255,755 6,494 2.6%
Seattle 548,711 562,461 13,750 2.5%
San Jose 309,422 317,055 7,633 2.5%
Minneapolis-St. Paul 580,592 593,309 12,717 2.2%
Miami 870,894 881,916 11,022 1.3%
Birmingham 192,830 195,263 2,433 1.3%
San Diego 525,040 520,745 -4,295 -0.8%
Hartford 205,814 204,130 -1,684 -0.8%
Cincinnati 390,704 387,109 -3,595 -0.9%
Chicago 1,772,051 1,745,047 -27,004 -1.5%
San Francisco-Oakland 676,544 660,471 -16,073 -2.4%
Boston 751,049 726,366 -24,683 -3.3%
New York 3,269,939 3,144,025 -125,914 -3.9%
Milwaukee 292,713 279,371 -13,342 -4.6%
Philadelphia 1,074,283 1,023,024 -51,259 -4.8%
Baltimore 479,250 455,157 -24,093 -5.0%
St. Louis 528,319 493,153 -35,166 -6.7%
Virginia Beach 306,209 284,872 -21,337 -7.0%
Los Angeles 2,482,750 2,301,383 -181,367 -7.3%
Providence 281,358 257,614 -23,744 -8.4%
Detroit 869,661 784,176 -85,485 -9.8%
Cleveland 403,465 360,365 -43,100 -10.7%
Rochester 200,620 177,981 -22,639 -11.3%
Pittsburgh 406,762 353,740 -53,022 -13.0%
Buffalo 213,785 184,816 -28,969 -13.6%
New Orleans 261,362 195,664 -65,698 -25.1%
Total 28,485,719 29,560,594 1,074,875 3.8%
Source:  U.S. Census 2000, U.S. Census 2010.   Analysis by Wendell Cox.

This piece originally appeared at Forbes.com.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and is a distinguished presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University, and an adjunct fellow of the Legatum Institute in London. He is author of The City: A Global History. His newest book is The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, released in February, 2010.

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