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The New Adulthood
Adults Shun Suburbs for Playground Cities

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.

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  • free_agent

    It does seem to be true that the culture of the 1950s was anomalous: Historically, people didn’t rush as fast as possible into responsible parenthood.

    • Brian H

      Also, the postwar suburban expansion was heavily covered in GI Bill pricing and a historic housing market couched in a climate of economic expansion. Even with some housing recovery, do many younger people (especially singles) really feel comfortable getting involved in a mortgage situation (I say as a single mid-30s man in an exurban apartment complex for work reasons, hence really neither of the two situations here) when the job market & salaries for the young are currently so mercurial? Similarly, not having children is often less a case of shunning responsibility but that same non-surity of being able to yet afford the spiraling costs described on sites such as here.

      It’s fair to discuss delayed-adolescence in the young — the just-graduated and such. But folks really need to realize the Lost Generation Effect of a certain segment of Late Generation X and Early Millennials who are trying to make up still for basically losing out on what should have been their first earning decade due to the Great Recession and have been in many cases trapped out of marriage & such due to cultural shifts in gender economic power and such. The cities (at least areas just gentrified enough to be secure without being pricey), for better or worse in these cases, have continued to be centers where young singletons can have affordable infrastructure.

    • Jim__L

      Depends on whether you’re male or female.

      The practice of marrying an age peer is a historical anomaly. Typically, men tend to marry after they get established, and they tend to marry younger (and thus more fertile) women.

      I expect to see this practice develop again, as non-career-oriented men and career-oriented women drop out of the gene pool entirely.

      • Diws

        Emphatically agreed, with the caveat that our culture acts as in effect a broken feedback loop, artificially incentivizing the genetically dead end behavior. I almost wonder if the extremes of the feminist movement can be explained by the pull farcor of the genormative mean – to be less extreme would be to cede the game to nature. Thus the need for indoctrination at all levels of education, so that the more traditional marriages breed further generations of the less naturally self-perpetuating navel gazers.

        • Jim__L

          I think indoctrination at all levels is the only way that such a dead-end process can continue, yes.

          It’s really no exaggeration to say that the culture wants to steal your children to feed itself.

  • Fat_Man

    They don’t get married because they can’t get married. They can’t get married because they are ground down by student debt and lack of or instability of jobs a careers. They can’t afford to buy houses because they can’t save money for a down-payment and their credit ratings sucks because of student debt and jobs. blah blah, blah.

    The blue model eats its young and demands higher pensions.

    • Jim__L

      Sooner or later — hopefully sooner — people will wake up to this, and condemn the Boomer’s self-indulgent and self-destructive culture as anti-human.

  • Anthony

    This story seems like a bunch of well to do boomers complaining about the behavior of the lower orders – always a dubious practice. People should only have children when they can afford it. And with the unpredictability of global capitalism, it almost seems like people should wait until they have at least 100 thousand dollars saved. The people writing these criticisms of young people will not be sympathetic when you lose your job and don’t know how your going to pay the rent.

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