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To Be Young, Single and College-Educated

The key group driving the return of American cities
  • April 23 2012

If you want to know what areas of the U.S. will be growing over the coming decade, follow the pioneers—the people who are willing to take a chance on new or renewed areas that others are leaving. Who are these trailblazers? Young, single and college-educated Americans. Most recently, they have been the driving force behind the rebirth of many of America’s largest metropolitan areas, and demographers are looking at their migration patterns to gauge their impact on city growth and population shifts.

A new paper published by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population division in April 2012 highlights the movement of this population segment during the end of the 20th century (1965-2000). It takes a historical approach to where these Americans have moved and where they eventually settle. As the authors note, “The group has made residential choices that are different from those of the overall population, with the result that some areas have attracted young, single, college-educated migrants despite a net domestic out-migration among the general population.”

The paper defines “young” people as those aged 25 to 39.

Overall, the demographers note that the size of the young, single, college-educated (YSCE) population grew significantly from 1 million in 1970 to more than 6 million in 2000, and that their share of the population went from 0.5 percent to 2.2 percent in that time.

During that time, the gender make-up of this population changed dramatically. In 1970, there were 135 males for every 100 females among the YSCE population. By 2000 they were at parity.

The authors found that having a college degree was often the defining aspect in migration. From 1970 to 2000, whether single or married, young people with a college degree were more likely to have changed residences in the previous five years than those without a degree. Among those, however, come 2000, those who were single had the highest mobility rate, as they had “more liberty in their residential choices than their married counterparts.”

The report also finds that the YSCE population is often drawn to metro areas, and that their share of population was highest inside principal cities. In fact, they were especially drawn to the largest metro areas (those with populations of 2.5 million or more).

The authors conclude that, “Because of the group’s human capital, as well as its potential impact on population growth—both for destinations and origins—the group warrants continued study.”

While the report does not analyze the latest 2010 Census data, many of the trends they allude to that are driving migration appear in the 2010 results. For instance, a greater number of young people now have bachelor’s degrees. Young people are getting married at a later age. Finally, growth is still occurring most strongly in the largest metropolitan areas.


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