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Musings on the Growing Sterility of Suburbia: Apr 29, 2017

April 29, 2017 12 comments

Let me begin this post by telling you that I first considered writing it about 2-3 years ago. However for a number of reasons, it got bumped down the list of what I ended up actually posting. It is based on a peculiar observation I have made over the years. However to explain the context of those observations, I have to first tell you where I live- very vaguely.

I live (rent) in a pretty affluent and nice but somewhat established suburb built in the late-1960s and 1970s. The time of its construction is important for three reasons relevant to this post. Firstly, unlike many suburbs built later on which contain only detached houses, this one does actually have a decent number of condos and apartment buildings. Secondly, it is within walking distance of multiple malls which are still busy and profitable. Thirdly, it has a much more balanced age structure than many other suburbs which are either predominately young or old. It is also worth mentioning that I lived in that area for over a decade.

So, what changes did I notice over those years which led me write this post. Well.. it is an observation about long-term changes in the number (or percentage) of people in that area who have children. It is also about the demographic characteristics of people who still have children.

Ever since the suburb in question was built, it has been one of the more desirable and affordable residential areas of that city. Consequently, it always had a fair number of younger couples with children. I noticed that on moving there almost 12 years ago- largely because of the noise of kids playing outside their houses, which could be a bit too much sometimes. Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that younger couples with children had no problems being able to afford buying houses there from the time it was built up to 2007-2008.

Then something changed.. You see, house prices in that area increased by almost 300% in the 2006-2014 time span. Curiously, rents did not go by anything close to that percentage within the same time span. To make a long story short, it appears that many younger couples with children who owned their houses cashed out and moved further away from downtown. But houses can be sold only if somebody is willing to buy them and this brings me to issue of who bought them. Once again, to keep it brief, these houses were bought by somewhat older people and more affluent but often childless couples. The change in type of people buying houses in that area can account for a part of the decrease in percentage of people with kids in that area- but not most of it.

As I mentioned earlier, the area in question has a pretty decent number of renters- of both houses and condos. Also, many people renting houses and condos in that area had kids. So was there any change there? Well.. no and yes. The percentage of people renting in that area remained very constant, however the newer renters were far less likely to have kids in the first place. But why? Did they have less money than the previous groups of renters? As it turns out, that was not the case and the newer renters were just as affluent or more so than the group they gradually replaced. It is just that they did not have as many, if any, kids.

Curiously, there is an interesting exception to this general trend. It seems that younger non-white families (Asian, Indian, inter-racial etc) in that area still have kids. In other words, the general reduction in the number of kids per couple (if they have any in first place) is largely a white phenomena. To put it another way, over half the children in this relatively affluent and desirable area are now of non-white ancestry. Of course, nobody is having more than two kids but a majority who have any in that area are non-white. So what does that mean for the future? Well.. lets just say that it depends on what you consider desirable.

But coming back to the question of why the “majority” in that area now have far fewer kids than before- even when you adjust for age. In my opinion the answers are as follows: 1] The risk of getting ruined by divorce, alimony and child support is very relevant if you have enough money to lose. 2] Most people who lived in that area used to have stable and well-paying jobs. Now their jobs are just well-paying. 3] Perhaps it is getting even more expensive to raise children? I cannot be sure about that, but it appears to be the case. Let me know if you can think of any more reasons.

What do you think? Comments?