Youth in large cities: Attracting the masses

Posted at 10:51 PM, Feb 20, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-25 10:46:04-05

Transportation, jobs, parties and like minded people – these are the reasons young people choose to live in large, vibrant cities. Constantly changing and evolving with waves of young adults, these cities are rising with the technology age.

A diverse list of factors makes these “young” cities attractive, but what are these reasons? With five more years until the next census, it’s time to look at current trends and see where recent college graduates are living.

Steve Murdock, former director of the Census Bureau, said the pattern of young adults moving to cities has been occurring since the beginning of census data collection.

“In any kind of normal area, whether you’re looking from Texas or California or New York or Europe, young adults are the largest kind of migrants,” he said.

Average millennials look for quick and easy transportation in a place that won’t kill their wallets when they want to socialize.

This list is a compilation of cities with a population above 500,000 that have a low median age, a large population of people ages 25 to 34, mostly a low cost of living and industries that attract young adult workers.

#10: Charlotte, North Carolina

This southern city holds some major positive factors. It has the second-largest banking industry in the country, playing host to Bank of America. There’s also the plus of being close to most of the nation’s population.

The city has youth councils and the largest branch of the University of North Carolina. It is walkable.

Evan Lowry, a researcher for mapping and demographics in Charlotte, said the population is going to grow to be more than a million by 2040. He said the city is planning to build a streetcar to add to walkability.

#9: Chicago, Illinois

The windy city keeps people tumbling into a city with a vibrant nightlife scene, lots of universities and major industries. The cost of living is slightly above the national average, but that doesn’t stop people from moving to Chicago.

Elfriede Wedam, sociology professor at Loyola University, teaches a class about Chicago and its growth as a metropolis. Wedam said a few factors that attract young adults are job opportunities in research and technology, culture and the “Midwest story culture of niceness.”

Chicago has plenty of entertainment options for a variety of people. Stores line the street on the Magnificent Mile and laughter fills the air at Second City, where Dan Aykroyd, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler once performed.

#8 Memphis, Tennessee

Known less for being a young city, Memphis depends on its low cost of living to keep growing. In fact, Memphis has the lowest cost of living of all the cities on the list. Josh Whitehead, administrator and planning director for Memphis, said there has been a shift in building around the edge of the city and more of a focus on urban construction.

“We’re attracting an increasing level of the creative class,” Whitehead said.

The city has recently focused on building bike paths and sidewalks because officials realize young adults do not want to have to rely on cars to get around. On the down side, Memphis has an unemployment rate well above the national average.

#7: San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio is one four Texas cities on this list.

“Younger populations are associated with … the racial and ethnic population,” Murdock said.

This means that Hispanic cities usually have a younger median age because of the tendency to have large families. The children grow up, and many stay to be near their families.

San Antonio has a large number of universities and job opportunities. The paycheck is smaller for a single family household, but that matters less than in some cities because rent is cheaper and the cost of living is under the national average.

Nightlife includes a combination of cultures. Whether it’s a cowboy dance hall or Latin music, there are plenty of entertainment options. Having a river lined with shops and restaurants in the middle of downtown is also an attraction.

#6: Houston, Texas

Fewer than 200 miles from San Antonio is a city that has similar characteristics. Both have a very close median age – they are separated by one decimal point. They have good employment opportunities, including thriving energy industries. People also don’t have to deal with record amounts of snow that affect someone living in Boston or Chicago.

The fourth largest city in the United States is growing, and it looks like that will continue along with the growing population of Texas. The traditionally oil-centric city has widened its industries  to include aerospace and real estate. Houston boasts everything that makes a city young: a large theater district, over 11,000 restaurants, professional sports teams and over 40 universities. Murdock said all these factors contribute to younger generations choosing a specific city.

“Historically, the pattern has been that young people move, often single, to central cities they liked, where the excitement was. They liked where they found lots of other young adults,” Murdock said.

#5: Dallas, Texas

Unsurprisingly, another Texas city is on the list. Dallas has median age and population similar to those of San Antonio. Three major highways connect these large cities in the shape of a triangle, which is why it is called the Texas Triangle.

Peer Chacka, assistant director of Dallas Development Services, said the city is at a crossroads.

“Resurgence has had a snowball effect,” Chacka said.

Rebuilding in cheaper areas has breathed new life into the city. The ongoing investment in these parts and more job creation has contributed to the resurgence. Chacka said he doesn’t think universities have had an effect on the city. The big contributors are medicine and finance that attract young professionals looking to make an impact.

#4: Columbus, Ohio

Most cities in Ohio have seen a lot of population moving away from cities, but Columbus is the exception. Described now as a “fashion mecca” by Alicia Howard from the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, the city hosts the corporate office of L Brands, parent company of Victoria’s Secret and Bath and Body Works.

“People want to be here,” Howard said about the opportunities that the city derives from being home to one of the largest colleges in the nation, Ohio State University.

The university provides art and nightlife attractions, and Columbus gives job opportunities for recent graduates. Rents and the cost of living are low. The city recently received a lot of press after being named a finalist to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention, but it lost to Philadelphia.

#3: Austin, Texas

The last city in the Texas Triangle, Austin, is also the smallest. It also has the highest cost of living of the Texas cities on the list. Like Columbus, Austin has one of the largest universities in the nation. The University of Texas, Austin enrolls more than 50,000 students.

“The presence of one or more universities is seen as part of what makes a city a superior city in terms of the ability to generate new businesses, and etcetera,” Murdock said.

Texas became famous for energy, but Austin has broken into the entertainment scene, including vibrant music and a fast-moving art and film scene. “Boyhood,” which is up for an Oscar, was filmed mostly in Austin.

#2: Boston, Massachusetts

Boston is loud and proud of its large young adult population. Over a third of the population in the metropolitan area is ages 20 to 34, and that population makes up almost half of the workforce. Boston is so happy to have this demographic that it created a program called onein3 that caters specifically to young adults. Onein3 is working to make Boston a 24-hour city.

Chloe Ryan, onein3 manager, said young people “shape the climate and environment” of the city and give Boston its identity.

“Our focus is just to make sure Boston is a sustainable place,” Ryan said.

There is one problem with Boston – it has an incredibly high cost of living. Ryan said this is not a problem for attracting people to the city. Residents may have to pay a higher rent, but they are closer to amenities such as trails, parks and the coast. Mayor Marty Walsh is working on a housing plan that will drive down costs for middle income families.

The 35 universities in and around Boston help to attract people to the city. The Mayor’s Council gives young adults a voice in the government, and the city sees a lot of young people at community meetings.

#1: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The numbers do not lie for this Midwestern city. Milwaukee takes the lead for lowest median age in a large United States city. The average rent is the lowest out of every other city, and almost half the population has never been married. Young adults make the lowest per capita income in Milwaukee, and the city has a high unemployment rate.

Jeff Fleming, spokesman for the Department of City Development, said the city has completed an evolution that makes it more attractive to people looking for jobs. Recently, electronic companies have been moving to Milwaukee, and it is home to six Fortune 500 companies, including Harley-Davidson and Northwestern Mutual.

“They anticipate growth here in Milwaukee and that kind of sense in the community sends a really positive vibe to young people that there are opportunities available,” Fleming said.

Fleming said Milwaukee has aspects of being a large city while maintaining the convenience of a midsize city. The city is planning to build a streetcar and more single family apartments.

Reach reporter Tori Knueven at or 202-408-1492. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.