City vs. Suburb

Whenever I’m visiting friends in the suburbs of Southern California, they occasionally ask me, “Would you consider moving back here, or would you miss the city too much?” Depending on how it’s asked, the question could mean, “Would you ever consider moving back to your hometown,” or, “Do you prefer having an urban lifestyle over a suburban one?”

The answer to the first version is easy: I wouldn’t mind moving back to suburban Southern California, but it would make less sense for me career-wise. The answer to the second version is more difficult: I don’t prefer dense cities over sprawling suburbs, and have enjoyed living in both at one time or another.

Joe Pinsker writes in The Atlantic that young people, given the chance, would be more than willing to flee big cities for suburban areas once they’ve got their careers going. One major problem: It’s too expensive to move.

One reason this group is staying in cities might be that they can’t afford to leave, according to William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. Millennials often don’t have enough money saved up to consider buying a house somewhere else — let alone covering the moving costs to get there or possibly suffering a pay cut or taking on a less thrilling job.
This isn’t how it used to be. In previous decades, cities like New York and Los Angeles attracted twentysomethings with educational or professional opportunities, and then those twentysomethings would migrate to places where they could settle down with a family and buy a spacious house after a few years in the city. This geographic dispersal of highly-skilled workers, the norm for decades, meant that the gains of states with stronger economies could be spread to those with weaker ones.

Pinsker then introduces us to a survey by the National Association of Home Builders (that I’m highly wary about) that shows that only 10 percent of Millennials say they want to live in cities, while 66 percent prefer suburbs and 24 percent prefer rural areas (doesn’t this distribution feel off?). But perhaps it’s true; if this is the year America gets a raise, maybe young people will take their raises and run to the suburbs.

Photo: Rachel Elaine