Urban Core Boomer Populations Drop 1 Million 2000-2010

This may be a surprising headline to readers of The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, which reported virtually the opposite result in their August 19 editions. The stories, “Hip, Urban, Middle-Aged: Baby boomers are moving into trendy urban neighborhoods, but young residents aren't always thrilled,” by Nancy Keates in The Wall Street Journal and “With the kids gone, aging Baby Boomers opt for city life,” by Tara Barampour in the Washington Post reported on information from the real estate firm, Redfin (a link to the corrected Wall Street Journal story is below). Both stories reported virtually the same thing: that 1,000,000 baby boomers moved to within five miles of the city centers of the 50 largest cities between 2000 and 2010. Because these results appeared to be virtually the opposite of census results, I contacted both papers seeking corrections.

When pressed for more information, Redfin.com responded with a tweet indicating that: “We don't have a link to share or published study; Redfin did a special analysis of Census data at reporters' requests.”

In fact, the census data shows virtually opposite. Redfin’s method was not clear, so I queried the five mile radius within the main downtown areas of the 51 metropolitan areas with more than 1,000,000 population in 2010, shown below in this table and figure.

Within the five mile radius of downtown, there was a net loss of 1,000,000 baby boomers, or 2 percent of the 2000 population (ages 35 to 55 in 2000). There was also a loss of 800,000 in the suburbs, or 17 percent of the 2000 population. The continuing dispersion of the nation is indicated by the fact that there was a gain of nearly 450,000 in this cohort outside the major metropolitan areas. Overall, there was a net loss of 1.3 million, principally due to deaths.

To its credit, The Wall Street Journal issued a correction, as I would have expected. The incorrect reference to an increase of baby boomers in the urban cores was removed. To my surprise, not only did the Washington Post fail to make a correction, but they also ignored multiple requests to deal with the issue (though my emails received courteous computer generated acknowledgements).

With the ongoing repetition of the “return to the city from the suburbs” myth, it is important to draw conclusions from the data, not from impressions.

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Urban popultaion.

Nice blog on decresing rate of urban population.

Why it matters

I'm given to believe that articles such as these in publications such as these are speaking to and also implicitly about boomer households of relatively high household income. However, a five-mile radius from a CBD comprises a very large geographic area and will take in people from every socioeconomic strata. There are many stories to tell, and you probably can't tell them in aggregate.