Look at these millennials. Photo by Steven Visneau.

Urbanism

Millennials Are Happier Living in Cities, If They Can Afford It

A new study shows that young people prefer the city to the suburbs. So why are so many millennials moving to the Dallas suburbs?

Here’s a new study that serves as further rebuttal to the wrong-headed notion, already rebutted once last week, that young Dallasites want to live some kind of Leave It To Beaver lifestyle with white-picket fenced homes and milkmen deliveries and two-car garages and heavy-duty insulation from unforced human interaction.

Researchers at Baruch College exploring the subject of “urban malaise” turned to data from a sort of happiness survey that has for the better part of a century tracked the general contentedness of five distinct generations, including those buzzy Millennials (born between 1992 and 2004) that chambers of commerce in Dallas and elsewhere are so eager to lure in. They found that while older generations have historically tended to feel better about life in the country and the less dense suburbs, Millennials are significantly happier in urban areas, here defined as cities with a population of more than 250,000.

But wait, you say, some of Dallas’ booming suburbs, like Plano, have populations of more than 250,000. Ah, I say, the researchers accounted for that by distinguishing between cities and suburbs. The study also acknowledges the possibility that young people want to live in the city because there are things about city life—the bright lights and hustle and bustle and all that action—that appeal and have appealed specifically to the interests of young, single people throughout history. To control for this, the researchers, turning to those 100 years of happiness data, isolated how previous generations polled when they were younger than 35. It didn’t change the results. Previous generations just suffered more from urban malaise. There is something unique about these city-loving Millennials and their return to urban areas.

The study’s conclusion: “Millennials are least happy in small rural areas, much happier in small urban areas, a little less happy in the suburbs and the most happy in the largest metropolitan areas.” In other words, one of the ideas propelling our new urbanism issue—that people, especially young people, want to live in dense, vibrant cities—remains sound. We’re happier in cities. Whether we can afford that happiness, the high costs of urban living and disproportionately low incomes of Millennial workers being a possible factor in driving the suburban and exurban growth that is particularly pronounced in the Dallas area, is another issue. At least even the suburbs are getting more urban.

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