It has become popular to argue that millennials have lost interest in the suburbs and will be less likely than past generations to graduate to the front yard and the white picket fence. And indeed we now have the first hard data that suburbs are getting older. The NYT reports that the average age of New York and DC suburbs is climbing, with the 25–34 year old bracket in particular opting for continued city life. The data apparently has experts “scratching their heads,” but some think the trend is tied to well-known changes in American culture:
Not everyone agrees that the suburbs are losing their appeal, especially to young families. Edwin J. McCormack, communications director for the Westchester County executive, Rob Astorino, who has studied the problem for his boss, said he believes the numbers in the Community Housing Innovations report are misleading […]His theory is that young people are marrying later and moving to the suburbs later. Others say that young people seem to be taking more time finding themselves, and are willing to flounder at home for a time, pushing the traditional arc of adult life into the future.“Parents used to be 35ish, now they’re 45ish,” Mr. McCormack said. “What we’re seeing is not so much an exodus as a later arrival.”
What’s important to note is that the aging of the suburbs has been most pronounced in wealthy areas, whose former residents are rich enough to sustain a life in the city. McCormack is right to link this to lifestyle factors. Though mature adulthood is theoretically as possible in a city as in a suburb, this particular trend seems to be rooted in wealthier Americans delaying adulthood while living in the “playground” of city life. Kay Hymowitz has been one of the ablest chroniclers of this trend: Hymowitz argues that extended city life, especially for men, tends to prolong the college dorm room atmosphere. Whether you agree with her assessment or not, it remains true that a key portion of 20- and 30-somethings are living an entirely different and extended path to adulthood than previous generations. For good or ill, that can’t help but shape them in certain ways.