America's Future Cities: Where The Youth Population Is Booming


To identify economic hot spots in the making, we often look for where immigrants, young people or entrepreneurs are clustering. But perhaps nothing is a better indicator than those who truly make up generation next — America’s children.

Several major factors determine where the most children are being born, and more importantly, raised, says demographer Wendell Cox. Three key ones are economic growth, affordability and lower population densities.

Using the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey, Cox looked at the under 14 populations of the nation’s 51 metropolitan statistical areas with over a million residents, and also traced the changing numbers in this age group since the onset of the Great Recession in 2007. Finally he broke down each of these metro areas between their core cities and suburbs to determine where within the region children are the most predominant.

Thesuburbs have sometimes been described as the nurseries of the nation, but surprisingly the outer rings generally did not outperform core cities in terms of births over the period we examined. In the core cities of our 51 largest MSAs, newborns to 4-year-olds made up 6.9% of the population in 2012, compared to 6.3% in the suburbs. But even here, it’s not the “hip and cool” cities leading the way – San Francisco, Seattle and Boston were all well below the average. Generally the highest proportions of young children were in lower-density cores of such cities as Oklahoma City, Dallas, Charlotte, N.C., and Houston. (Two metro areas with denser urban cores, Milwaukee and Hartford, also made the top  10.)

But something dramatic happens as children age: They and their parents start moving to the suburbs in massive numbers. In both the 5-to-9 and 10-to-14 cohorts, suburbs easily surpass core cities in virtually every major metropolitan area. So while the popular perception that many downtowns are now overrun by baby strollers is not necessarily an urban myth, it ignores what happens to families as children get older and ambulatory, requiring more space, needing to go to school and more susceptible to getting into trouble.

In addition, Cox notes, not only are there higher concentrations of children in suburbs in the vast majority of metro areas, the overall greater population on the periphery makes the suburbs home to the preponderance of families. This is one reason that most of the fastest-growing counties in the U.S. are either suburbs or exurbs. Roughly 23.9 million children below the age of 14 live in the suburbs of our 51 largest metro areas compared to 8.6 million in the core cities.

Families and Opportunity

Perhaps nothing attracts families on the move more than economic opportunity. The old adage “the rich get richer and the poor have babies” may no longer fit in the United States. In fact, in most high-income societies, the birth rate is shaped increasingly by economic conditions. The Great Recession, for example, reduced fertility in most major countries, including the United States, which traditionally has enjoyed somewhat higher birth rates than its high-income competitors in East Asia and Europe.

But with the gradual economic recovery in the United States, the decline in birthrates has endedand could return to the levels of the more prosperous 1990s and early 2000s.  This dynamic plays out as well on the local level. Birthrates tend to have remained stable in metro areas with stronger economies during the recession. In booming North Dakota, births actually increased.

Not surprisingly, metropolitan areas with the consistently strongest economies in terms of job creation and income growth dominate our list of the cities with the highest share of children under 14 in their populations. In our top-ranked metro area, Salt Lake City, children make up 24.7% of the population, and in second place Houston, they account for 23.0%.


The second major factor driving child demography is the cost of housing, which is the principal driver of the cost of living. Virtually all the areas with high proportions of children have median home price to annual income ratios of three to four. In some cases, low home prices seem to trump economic malaise. This may help explain the relatively high under 14 population in No. 4 Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif.

Conversely high housing prices can also limit the ability of even prospering areas to grow families. This is most obvious in the relatively low ranking of the New York metro area (41st), with a median home price to income multiple of 6.2.  San Francisco-Oakland, home to the highest housing prices in the nation with a median multiple rapidly approaching 9, ranks 45th place. Pricey Boston ranks 46th. Policies designed to prevent the construction of single-family homes, particularly in the Bay Area, all but guarantee that housing prices will remain high, and toxic for all but wealthy households.


Despite the hopes of some urbanists, most families prefer lower-density living, particularly single-family houses. Between 2000 and 2011, detached house accounted for 83% of the net additions to the occupied housing stock in the United States. A survey sponsored by the National Association of Realtors suggests that roughly 80% of Americans prefer a single-family house to either an apartment or townhouse.

Correspondingly, expansion in the number of families and children has been occurring overwhelmingly in less dense areas. The fastest growth in the under 14 population since 2007 has been almost entirely in what can be described as heavily suburbanized low-density areas, led by greater New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio, Charlotte, Nashville, and Houston. In contrast, the biggest drop off in the number of children has been in metropolitan areas with higher urban densities, with the most dense, Los Angeles, also suffering the largest decline. The 10 metropolitan areas with the largest declines in their youth populations had urban densities averaging 45 percent more than the 10 with the greatest gains.

The Urban Future and Fertility

What does this tell us about the future of our urban regions? Since families are a critical component of growth in any metropolitan areas, those with higher percentages of children are likely to grow far faster than those that are made up increasingly of childless households. This trend should accelerate as the millennials, now entering their 30s, begin to form families. Children boost the demand for certain goods, notably houses and certain kinds of retail, and also increase demand for many services, notably schools.

Given the current economy, most of our top metropolitan areas can be expected to continue growing, particularly those, like Houston and Dallas, that have become increasingly hospitable to immigrants; the foreign-born account for one out of every four women giving birth in the country. Minorities overall are the ones driving population growth; last year  there weremore white deaths than births.

But some traditionally fertile metropolitan areas might see a real slowdown, notably Riverside-San Bernardino, where income and job growth is lagging well behind housing costs.  At the same time, we can expect continued slow growth in the populations in those areas towards the bottom of the list. To be sure, migration of older people from cold climates will keep Miami (47th on our list) and Tampa-St. Petersburg (second from last) growing, particularly as the boomers age. Such a movement can not anticipated in many other low-ranked cities ranging from relatively prosperous Pittsburgh (last place) to less affluent Buffalo, Providence and Cleveland.

We can also anticipate the evolution of some metropolitan areas with low percentages of children — such as Boston, San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles — will slow not just demographically, but also economically as younger workers look to establish families elsewhere.  This may be somewhat counterbalanced by foreign immigration, but these newcomers, particularly those without huge financial resources, are also increasingly migrating to lower-density cities.

Having children in your region certainly does not guarantee success, but without them, metro areas will face a more rapid aging of their populations and workforces, something that historically does not produce robust economies but gradual decline.

Ages 0-14
MMSA MMSA% Core City % Suburban %
Atlanta, GA 21.6% 15.9% 22.1%
Austin, TX 21.2% 18.9% 23.1%
Baltimore, MD 18.6% 18.3% 18.8%
Birmingham, AL 19.7% 19.0% 19.9%
Boston, MA-NH 17.3% 14.4% 17.7%
Buffalo, NY 17.1% 19.5% 16.4%
Charlotte, NC-SC 21.4% 19.6% 22.8%
Chicago, IL-IN-WI 20.2% 19.0% 20.6%
Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN 20.3% 19.5% 20.5%
Cleveland, OH 18.3% 19.4% 18.0%
Columbus, OH 20.4% 19.6% 21.1%
Dallas-Fort Worth, TX 22.9% 22.0% 23.1%
Denver, CO 20.5% 19.0% 21.0%
Detroit,  MI 19.1% 20.7% 18.8%
Hartford, CT 17.4% 21.1% 17.0%
Houston, TX 23.0% 21.8% 23.6%
Indianapolis. IN 21.6% 21.2% 22.0%
Jacksonville, FL 19.3% 19.7% 18.6%
Kansas City, MO-KS 21.1% 20.8% 21.2%
Las Vegas, NV 20.4% 20.1% 20.6%
Los Angeles, CA 19.4% 18.7% 19.7%
Louisville, KY-IN 19.5% 19.3% 19.7%
Memphis, TN-MS-AR 21.6% 20.9% 22.2%
Miami, FL 17.3% 16.2% 17.4%
Milwaukee,WI 20.1% 22.9% 18.4%
Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI 20.4% 19.5% 20.7%
Nashville, TN 20.1% 18.7% 20.9%
New Orleans. LA 19.2% 18.3% 19.6%
New York, NY-NJ-PA 18.4% 17.9% 18.9%
Oklahoma City, OK 21.0% 22.1% 20.1%
Orlando, FL 18.8% 20.2% 18.6%
Philadelphia, PA-NJ-DE-MD 18.8% 18.9% 18.7%
Phoenix, AZ 21.4% 22.9% 20.7%
Pittsburgh, PA 16.0% 12.9% 16.5%
Portland, OR-WA 19.2% 16.5% 20.2%
Providence, RI-MA 17.2% 18.3% 17.0%
Raleigh, NC 21.6% 19.8% 22.7%
Richmond, VA 18.8% 17.0% 19.2%
Riverside-San Bernardino, CA 22.8% 23.9% 22.7%
Rochester, NY 17.6% 19.2% 17.3%
Sacramento, CA 19.9% 19.9% 19.8%
Salt Lake City, UT 24.7% 18.5% 25.9%
San Antonio, TX 21.7% 21.8% 21.6%
San Diego, CA 19.0% 17.1% 20.3%
San Francisco-Oakland, CA 17.4% 13.6% 18.8%
San Jose, CA 20.0% 20.5% 19.4%
Seattle, WA 18.7% 13.4% 19.8%
St. Louis,, MO-IL 19.2% 17.9% 19.3%
Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL 17.1% 18.7% 16.8%
Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC 19.1% 18.0% 19.3%
Washington, DC-VA-MD-WV 19.5% 14.8% 20.1%
Calculated from American Community Survey Data

This story originally appeared at

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Crossing the street photo by Bigstock.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Table needs sorting

The table should not be sorted alphabetically and should sorted by one of the percentage columns.

Dave Barnes