An article in The Atlantic is sounding the alarm bell about the new possible future of cities as a childless landscape. Though urban cities are experiencing a rebirth, journalist Derek Thompson remarks that it is ironically missing its literal component: actual births.
For the first time in four decades, excluding recession years, the population of New York City shrank. However, it seems like the trend has been in the making for at least eight years. Since 2011, babies born in New York declined by nine percent; Manhattan specifically boasts a decline of a staggering 15 percent. This means that should the trend continue, Manhattan’s baby population will be half of what it once was in the next 30 years. In addition to the dropping birth rates is the number of people leaving the Big Apple — which has more than doubled in recent years. These trends are consistent with large metropolitan areas around the country.
In fact, the only group in which the population is growing is young college educated people who are childfree. It is for this reason that sociologists Richard Lloyd and Terry Clark have coined metropolitan areas “entertainment machines.”
The two believe that while traditional homes would be grounded in church, schools, neighborhood associations, new homes that young people make in cities are based on recreation, restaurants, and culture. Lloyd and Clark noted that these young people “experience their own urban location as if tourists, emphasizing aesthetic concerns,” per City Journal.
A large component of a potentially childfree urban future is due to the high cost of rents and lack of educational opportunities. In places like San Francisco and New York, house prices are around six times the national average. In addition, many middle and upper-middle class parents have talked about the poor public schools in metropolitan areas, often making parents feel pressured to choose private schooling, which can cost around $55,000 a year in cities. A third aspect is the lack of living space and areas such as parks that would be needed for a growing family.
Though there might not be any immediate alarm bells for the thought of a new population that stays childfree in the city, the article warns that this could have serious consequences for the future of the economy.
Cities have laid claim to a monopoly on jobs; for example, just five counties make up about half of the nation’s internet and web-portal jobs, and the top 25 metropolitan areas are responsible for half of the United States economy, per Axios. However, this also means that businesses are relying on young college graduates who do not have the distractions or obligations of family life and are willing to dedicate their lives to their careers.
Moreover, if more young people decide not to have children due to the difficulties of raising a family in the city, it could lead to underpopulation. This would have severe economic consequences, as it is not only correlated with less dynamism and productivity, but would also mean that younger people would not be able to afford the growing social nets for older populations, such as Medicare.
Thompson writes of some of the ways in which cities can make them more appealing to families. However, with major cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., showing major declines in families with kids older than six, it does not seem as if the problem will be alleviated anytime soon.