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Americans Prefer the Suburbs More Than Ever - 1 11 2022 9 36 36 AM

NH: According to a recent Pew poll, Americans’ preference for suburban living continues to grow. In 2018, 42% of adults preferred suburbia over city and rural communities. In 2021, that share rose +4 percentage points to 46%. 

Conversely, Americans’ preference for city living continues to fall.

In 2018, 23% of adults preferred the city. In 2021, that share dropped -4 percentage points to 19%. Fully 43% of urban dwellers want to move. That's a +6 percentage point rise from 3 years ago. 

Americans Prefer the Suburbs More Than Ever - Jan11

We have been covering this new preference for suburban living since the mid-2010s, and we have pointed out that the shift has been exceptionally preannounced among Millennials. 

While the net flow of those in their early 20s is still toward large cities, the net flow of older Millennials has shifted to the suburbs. (See "More Americans Want to Head for the Hills.") 

So why are Americans turning so negative towards city life? Here are a few possibilities:

  • Covid-19: In general, infection risk rises in crowded urban settings. This is especially a risk for older adults. (See “Seniors Push Up Demand for Single-Family Homes.”)
  • Rising Violence: Over the last two years, urban areas have experienced a rise in violent crimes. Perhaps some people see the city as increasingly dangerous. (See "FBI Releases Official 2020 Crime Report.") 
  • Lack of Community: Economists like Jan K. Brueckner have long argued that social interactions are stronger in less dense areas and that people are less likely to know their neighbors in the city. We know that Millennials desire strong communities, and the anonymity of urban life could be a turn-off. 
  • Cost of Living: The rising cost of living in most urban areas (especially the cost of housing) is making city life less affordable for many young people. (See “Millennials Ditching Big Cities for the Suburbs.”)

Of course, these Pew numbers don’t mean everyone will leave their city homes. Having a preference and physically moving are two different things.

But with the increase of telework, it has never been easier to live where you want and still keep your corporate job.

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Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.

A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.

Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."

Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.

Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.

Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.