Baby Boomers Return to the City is a Myth.

COST Commentary: As indicated in the article below which is supported by official US census data, the widespread reporting of a major movement of Baby Boomers to city urban cores is an unsupported myth. Austin, other cities and major organizations with biased, ideological agendas have been quick to report this myth to the point that it is almost viral.

This myth relates directly to transportation as a major portion of those who have embraced this myth are using it to justify a wave of recommended transportation actions, predominately increased urban rail transit.

Much to the chagrin of Austin elected officials and those supporting urban rail, overwhelming extensive evidence is compiling which indicates urban rail transit does not achieve its major stated purposes of reduced congestion and improved air quality. These are discussed in numerous articles posted on this site. This disappointment has driven many rail supporters to search for new, more subjective justifications for rail. These justifications include the myths of increased economic development and the changing priorities of various population segments such as this one concerning Baby Boomers.

An earlier COST site post addresses recent and widely promoted myths regarding changing behavior patterns: Millennial Generation choices are not fundamental changes in America’s future driving and living.

These myths are all false rationales for sweeping urban planning changes to higher densities and to urban rail, specifically, which has proven for many years and in many cities to be an ineffective transit mode which burdens taxpayers with higher taxes and no measurable benefit while also placing increased burdens on low income, transit dependent citizens by increasing fares and reducing transit’s backbone bus systems which a vast majority of transit dependent citizens ride and have no alternative.

Clearly, the cost-effective, sustainable transit solution is to provide more efficient bus transit through the use of Bus Rapid Transit and Express buses, maximizing the use of freeways, toll ways and managed lanes, while providing flexible, variable-sized, demand-response vehicles to serve a far greater segment of the population with more rapid service which provides access to a much greater percentage of the region. High cost, inflexible urban rail can never do this and is not sustainable.

We must maintain perspective and balance in the allocation of limited taxpayer transportation funds in order to most effectively serve the entire community. Transit is of vital importance as are many citizens’ services. However transit serves less than one percent of all passenger miles traveled in the region, is the fourth mode of ‘commuting to work’ behind private vehicles, car pools, work at home, and other. Commuting is the highest use of transit. Current planning to allocate almost 50% of the region’s transportation dollars to transit to support this miniscule portion of trips will result in major degradation of the entire transportation system. Roadways are used for 99 plus percent of all trips: transit, private vehicle (motorized and bicycle), commercial, emergency, etc. We must be more creative with cost-effective, sustainable transit solutions and we must prioritize effective roadways to serve the overwhelming share of all trips in the region. Urban rail fails to meet these challenges in many ways.


by Wendell Cox ,, 09/11/2013

This may be a surprising headline to readers of The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, which reported virtually the opposite result in their August 19 editions.

The stories, “Hip, Urban, Middle-Aged: Baby boomers are moving into trendy urban neighborhoods, but young residents aren’t always thrilled,” by Nancy Keates in The Wall Street Journal and “With the kids gone, aging Baby Boomers opt for city life,” by Tara Barampour in the Washington Post reported on information from the real estate firm, Redfin (a link to the corrected Wall Street Journal story is below). Both stories reported virtually the same thing: that 1,000,000 baby boomers moved to within five miles of the city centers of the 50 largest cities between 2000 and 2010. Because these results appeared to be virtually the opposite of census results, I contacted both papers seeking corrections. [see correction notice below this article]

When pressed for more information, responded with a tweet indicating that: “We don’t have a link to share or published study; Redfin did a special analysis of Census data at reporters’ requests.”
In fact, the census data shows virtually opposite. Redfin’s method was not clear, so I queried the five mile radius within the main downtown areas of the 51 metropolitan areas with more than 1,000,000 population in 2010, shown below in the table and the figure.

Within the five mile radius of downtown, there was a net loss of nearly 1,000,000 baby boomers, or 2 percent of the 2000 population (ages 35 to 55 in 2000). There was also a loss of 800,000 in the suburbs, or 17 percent of the 2000 population. The continuing dispersion of the nation is indicated by the fact that there was a gain of nearly 450,000 in this cohort outside the major metropolitan areas. Overall, there was a net loss of 1.3 million, principally due to deaths.

To its credit, The Wall Street Journal issued a correction, as I would have expected. The incorrect reference to an increase of baby boomers in the urban cores was removed. To my surprise, not only did the Washington Post fail to make a correction, but they also ignored multiple requests to deal with the issue (though my emails received courteous computer generated acknowledgements).

With the ongoing repetition of the “return to the city from the suburbs” myth, it is important to draw conclusions from the data, not from impressions.



by Wendell Cox ,, 08/09/2013

An article by Nancy Keates in today’s The Wall Street Journal indicates that more than 1,000,000 baby boomers moved to within the downtowns of the 50 largest cities between 2000 and 2010. The article quoted as the source for the claim.

In fact, the authoritative source for such information is the United States Census. The Journal’s claim is at significant variance with Census data.

First of all, according to US Census Bureau data, the areas within 5 miles of the urban cores of the 51 metropolitan areas with more than 1,000,000 population lost 66,000 residents between 2000 and 2010 (See Flocking Elsewhere: The Downtown Growth Story). It is implausible for 1,000,000 boomers to have moved into areas that lost 66,000 residents (Figure).

Secondly rather than flock to the city, as the Journal insists, baby boomers continued to disperse away from core cities between 2000 and 2010, as is indicated by data from the two censuses. The share of boomers living in core cities declined 10 percent. This is the equivalent of a reduction of 1.2 million at the 2010 population level (Note). The share of the baby boomer population rose 0.5 percent in the suburbs, the equivalent of 175,000. Outside these major metropolitan areas, the share of baby boomers rose three percent, which is the equivalent of 1,050,000. All of the net increase in boomers , then, was in the suburbs or outside the major metropolitan areas, while all of the loss was in the core cities.

Among the 51 major metropolitan areas, only seven core cities gained baby boomers (See table at Demographia.). Among these seven, only two had larger percentage gains than the suburbs in the same metropolitan areas. One of these was Louisville, which accomplished the feat by a merger with Jefferson County. Louisville’s gain appears to have been simply the result of moving boundaries, not moving people.

Note: The age groups used are 35 to 55 in 2000 and 45 to 65 in 2010, which approximate the baby boomers. There was a decline in the number of baby boomers between 2000 and 2010 (largely due to deaths). The figures quoted in this article allocate the same percentage loss from this reduction to the 2000 baby boomer population for each core city and metropolitan area (the national rate).

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