Gen Z Moving Out of Cities


Remember the young people who supposedly loved cities and rejected the suburbs? It turns out they are the ones who have been fleeing the cities since the beginning of the pandemic. According to a recent analysis of census data, while the number of people in large cities declined by 0.9 percent since the pandemic began, the number of children under 5 — an indicator of young families — fell by more than 6 percent.

The notion that families with children prefer suburbs to inner cities will be a surprise only to urban planners who insisted that the suburbs are passé and that no one wanted to live in them anymore. Yet this narrative had become an established part of media reports about census data for the past couple of decades.

What may be a surprise is just how abrupt this change is. Perhaps some young families really were staying in cities until they were chased out by fears of COVID. More likely, the pandemic merely accelerated a movement to the suburbs that was already taking place.

The analysis, done by a think tank called the Economic Innovation Group, noted that the under-5 populations of Mid-Atlantic cities declined more than 10 percent and those of West Coast cities fell more than 8 percent.

Declines in southern cities, whose population densities are lower than Mid-Atlantic and West Coast cities, weren’t as great. However, major southern cities such as Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston are “hollowing out” of children as families move from the denser cities to their lower-density suburbs. So this movement is partly driven by housing prices but also by population densities.

These data should, but probably won’t, give pause to elected officials and planners who are still seeking to densify major cities. As I’ve noted before, the desire for density is a mania that is completely divorced from reality. High densities are not environmentally, socially, or economically better than low densities, and they certainly aren’t preferred by most people, and not just because of the pandemic. Cities that fail to understand this are wasting Billions of dollars trying to subsidize lifestyles that Americans don’t want.

This piece first appeared at The Antiplanner.

Randal O'Toole, the Antiplanner, is a policy analyst with nearly 50 years of experience reviewing transportation and land-use plans and the author of The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future.

Photo: Americans have long preferred to raise children in the suburbs, and Gen Z turns out to be no exception. by Cade Martin.