Is California Anti-Family?


In its race against rapidly aging Europe and East Asia, America’s relatively vibrant nurseries have provided some welcome demographic dynamism. Yet, in recent years, notably since the Great Recession and the weak recovery that followed, America’s birthrate has continued to drop, and is now at a record low.

Nowhere is this decline more marked than here in California. Once a state known for rapid population growth, and above-average fecundity, the state’s birthrate is also at a historic low. The results are particularly dismal in coastal Southern California. Los Angeles’ population of people under 17 already has dropped a precipitous 13.6 percent, with drops even among Latinos and Asians, while Orange County has fallen by 6 percent since 2000. The national growth, in contrast, was up 2.2 percent. Despite claims that people leaving California are old and poor, the two most recent years of data from the IRS show larger net losses from people in the 35 to 54 age group. Net out-migration is also larger among those making between $100,000 and $200,000 annually. This is your basic child-bearing middle class.

Why are we eating our seed corn?

Why is this shift to an increasingly child-free population occurring more in Southern California than elsewhere? One logical source may be housing prices, particularly near the coast, which present a particular problem for middle-class, middle-aged families. In contrast, the growth in the number of children under 17 is much higher in more affordable metropolitan areas such as Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta, Phoenix, San Antonio, and Charlotte and Raleigh in North Carolina.

Housing affordability certainly drives migration. Major metropolitan areas where the cost of housing is at least four times that of annual incomes have seen a net out-migration of 900,000 since 2010. This compares to a net gain of 1.1 million in the more affordable areas.

Hardest hit of all are the groups who will dominate our future — young people, minorities and immigrants. California boomers, as we discussed in a recent Chapman University report, have a homeownership rate around the national average, but for people aged 25 to 34 the rate is the third-lowest in the nation, behind just New York and Washington, D.C. The drops among this demographic in the San Jose and Los Angeles areas since 1990 are roughly twice the national average.

It is no surprise, then, that places like Southern California have also seen a decline in the next demographic group: people between 35 and 49, who are generally the age of parents, and also tend to be at their peak earning years. The one population group on the upswing is seniors, particularly in Orange County, who bought their homes when they were much less expensive.

Read the entire piece at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book is The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Photo by Kat Grigg, via Flickr, using CC License.