City Lights.

The “Baby Boom” (b. 1945-1963) formed the first memorable demographic mouse to pass through the institutional-cultural snake of American society.  Then “Gen X” (b. 1977-1987) marked a low-birth saddle between the high-birth “Baby Boom” and “Millennial” generations.  .  The “Millennial” generation (b. 1980-2005) has stretched the snake even farther than their predecessors.  Neither big generation has fully run its course so far.  Yet both have had profound impacts.[1]

One feature of the “Baby Boom” appeared in the flood tide toward the suburbs.  In a sense, the children of the “Boomers” motivated this migration.  The “Boomers” wanted bigger, newer houses with yards to play in and good schools.[2]  The life-blood drained out of older American cities as a result.

The “Millennials” reversed this course to some extent by moving back to urban cores in search of a more cosmopolitan life style.  They wanted walkable neighborhoods, other young people who shared their own culture, and—for people on the far side of many rights movements–diverse communities.

Moreover, a sharp fall in the violent crime rate made cities seem much safer than when their parents fled in previous decades.  Violent crimes—and not just homicide—has been falling since 1991.[3]  Studies have begun to reveal that people with higher incomes and more education are alert to changing crime rates.  They have shown a greater willingness than other groups to “gentrify” re-claimed areas.[4]

Apartment houses, starter houses, and many services thrived as a result.  City governments that benefitted from this population movement crowed over their present revival and contemplated their future prosperity.

Now, however, there are signs that this process may be cresting.[5]  Two factors may be at work.  First the number of “Millennials” moving into cities has fallen short of rose-tinted projections.  Second, the in-flow of younger “Millennials” is being off-set by the out-flow of older “Millennials”—those who are married with children and in their Thirties.  Many “Millennials” entered the job market during the “Great Recession.”  They’ve faced slow income growth and tight competition for affordable housing.  Many of them may have delayed starting families.  As they do, however, they may well hear the siren-song of more affordable housing and better schools in the suburbs.  Piling on to these forces, at least in some cities like San Francisco, are sharp rises in rents as the very well-off crowd out the only moderately well-off and everyone lower on the income ladder.[6]

It remains to be seen whether the urban renaissance of the early 21st Century will be sustained or will begin to retreat.  Sustaining the renaissance probably will require a complicated mix of school funding coupled with school reform, effective policing that keeps crime rates down without alienating people predisposed to see the police as a problem, and a thoughtful approach to keeping housing prices within reach of ordinary people.

[1] Conor Dougherty, “Cities May Be Starting to Run Out Of Millennials,” NYT, 24 January 2017.

[2] It seems foolish, if indelicate, to ignore the reality of “white flight” as an important factor.  See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/05/21/white-flight-from-baltimore/

[3] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/01/16/legacies-of-the-violent-decades/

[4] Emily Badger, “To Predict Gentrification, Look for Falling Crime,” NYT, 6 January 2017.

[5] Still, nothing’s set in cement except Bo Weinberg.  See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Weinberg

[6] See: What Government Can Accomplish 1.  https://waroftheworldblog.com/2016/12/29/what-government-can-accomplish-1/

Millennial Falcons.

“Gen X” are the people born between 1965 and 1980.  “Millennials”—often thought of as “Gen Z”[1]–are the 75 million Americans born between 1980 and 2000.[2]  They out-number the famous “Baby Boomers.”[3]  Stereotypes regarding “Millennials” abound: they have a sense of entitlement; they are self-indulgent; they are work-shy[4]; and they are rule-breakers.  Their presence and interests demand a response.[5]  Colleges and businesses are obsessed with the market power of this “demographic.”

Farhad Manjoo[6] begs to differ.  First, “Macroscale demographic trends rarely govern most individuals’ life and work decisions.”  That means that any “generation” is actually just a big collection to individuals.  You can’t really tell anything about the particular individual in front of you from their birth year or “cohort.”

Second, generational succession is always accompanied by a sense of unease among the older generation and a sense of suppressed ridicule of their elders by the younger generation.  The “Greatest Generation” undoubtedly had grave reservations about the “Baby Boomers.”  That unpleasant truth gets lost in the narrow focus on the right-now.

Still, there are common (if not universal) characteristics of “Millennials”: they are socially liberal (they get married later after cohabitating, they are more than OK with marriage equality, white people claim to know black people (and may even do so in a work-related context); they are 420-neutral-to-friendly; they are post-Snowden and post-“Searchlight” suspicious of institutions.  Even so, Republican “Millennials” are more socially conservative than are Democratic “Millennials.”

All this makes sense on a certain level.  However, as the critics of “macrodemographic” thinking say, the categories are just containers for many individuals or sub-categories.  For example, none of this explores the beliefs of the Republican “Millennials.” Similarly, polling data seems to suggest that Donald Trump pulls a certain segment of young people, even while the national media portrays his voters as—well, those tattooed guys with grey pony-tails on Harley-Davidsons that you see on Sunday drives in the far suburbs.

One particularly fascinating figure here is Victor Lazlo Bock[7], the head of human resources at Google.  The company runs all sorts of empirical data on its employees, who range in age from sweaty recent college graduates to geezers bored with retirement.  Bock claims that there isn’t any significant difference in personality types across the generations, just between personality types across the generations.  “Every single human being wants the same thing…” says Bock.  “We want to be treated with respect, we want to have a sense of meaning and agency and impact, and we want our boss to leave us alone so we can get our work done.”  How do we accomplish this in a small college?

[1] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqQ8Y9Sjp7o

[2] Farhad Manjoo, “Companies In Pursuit Of a Mythical Millennial,” NYT, 26 May 2016.

[3] On the other hand, the “Boomers” have a lot more money.

[4] Or what the Nazis would have called “asocials.”  See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBn3FVWkuWM

[5] “And so say all of us.”

[6] I know, sounds like an ISIS recruiter or that kid played by Dev Patel in “Marigold Hotel.”  In reality, he’s a media correspondent for the New York Times.

[7] HA!  Is joke.  His name is Lazlo Bock.  Paul Henreid played the Resistance leader “Victor Lazlo” in “Casablanca” (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1942).