Reading the tea leaves in the U.S. population census results.

County Population Change: 2000-2010Now that the full scope of information is being released from the latest U.S. population census, many news reports about age demographics tend to focus on the composition of families in urban areaa … the impact of immigration of all stripes … as well as the occasional article about the phenomenon of large family units in “exotic” places like rural Utah and Idaho.

Most of these news reports give the impression that age demographics are getting younger.

Don’t believe it. Instead, we can turn to the U.S. Bureau of Census’ own figures which tell a different story.

In reality, there are fewer children today in most American neighborhoods. In fact, the share of population under the age of 18 declined in ~95% of the counties since 2000.

The Bureau’s stats also show that the number of American households reporting that they have children under age 18 has remained roughly static (at ~38 million) … even while the country’s total population grew by ~10% over the decade.

As a result, the share of all U.S. households with children is only about 33%, down from ~36% ten years earlier … while the share of the U.S. population under age 18 is 24%, compared to 26% ten years earlier.

These census figures and others have become grist for many researchers in recent months, with a number of intriguing reports being issued. One, released by the Brookings Institution, focuses on the changing nature of Suburban America. Alan Berube, author of the report, notes that there is a continuing blurring of the once-sharp lines that used to demarcate central cities from the suburbs.

Instead, there now appear to be more similarities between cities and their “inner core” suburbs, rather than between inner and outer suburban communities.

Urban development guru Joel Kotkin sees this development in a larger sociological context — noting that people tend to “self-select” where they live based on “like” characteristics that go beyond mere economic elements to also include psychographic aspects.

In Kotkin’s view, that trend has contributed to the vast differences we see in political and voting behavior in cities, the suburbs, and exurbs. We may have much less overt segregation based on race or ethnic background … but it’s been replaced by a self-segregation based on perspectives and attitudes.

No wonder it seems that people are “talking past each other” — rather than engaging one another — in our national dialogue about the economy and the government’s proper role in guiding it.

Don’t look for this dynamic to change anytime soon.

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