The United States is home to 74 million children. And while it’s true that the share of the U.S. population 18 years and under has declined slightly—from 25.6 percent in 2000 to 23.3 percent in 2013—there are still more kids growing up in the country than ever before. But where do they actually live?
One oft-told story is that kids are far less likely to live in big, dense, knowledge-based metros where young people (and potential parents) put off marriage and child-bearing in favor of getting more education and climbing the job ladder. Another is that children are less likely to be in locations where it costs more to buy a home. Those on the social conservative right also like to argue that families are more likely to have more children in places with traditional “family values” than they are in more “libertine” cities and major metro areas.
Is any of that actually true? With the help of my Martin Prosperity Institute colleague Charlotta Mellander, we crunched and analyzed data from the 2011 American Community Survey on the share of the population comprised of children across all 350-plus U.S. metros. I decided to focus on the metro level only and not wade into the question of how kids are distributed between cities and suburbs. I have long talked of the barbell demography of America’s re-urbanizing cities, which are often made up of young singles and marrieds who have yet to have children and older empty-nesters whose kids are gone. We already know that families with kids typically relocate to the suburbs where they can get more space and access to better public schools. (Though whether that pattern will change is up for debate.) The more interesting questions are which metros—and especially which kinds of metros—have larger or smaller shares of kids.
The map below, by MPI’s Isabel Ritchie, gets us started by highlighting the share of population comprised by kids across U.S. metros. Light blue shows the metros where children under 18 make up the smallest shares of the population and dark purple indicates where they constitute the highest shares. The share of population made up of kids varies widely across metros—from about 14 percent of the population at the low end to 35 percent at the high end.
The maps shows that the metros where children make up the largest share of the population (the deepest purple areas) are mostly along the West Coast, in inland sections of California and parts of Utah and Idaho; in southern portions of Texas, along the border with Mexico; and around Lake Michigan in the Midwest. By contrast, the places where children make up the smallest shares of the population include parts of central* California and Oregon out West, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maine in the East, and large sections of Florida, which has long been a major retirement destination.
But let’s zoom in a little closer. The table below lists the large metros (those with more than one million people) with the highest shares of children under 18. Children make up the largest share of the population in Salt Lake City (29.4 percent), followed by three Texas metros—Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and San Antonio. Memphis, Atlanta, Phoenix, Raleigh, and Indianapolis round out the top ten. Nine in ten of these large metros are in the Sunbelt.
Large Metros with the Largest Shares of Children Under 18 Years of Age
Share of Population
|1||Salt Lake City, UT||29.4%|
|2||Riverside-San Bernadino-Ontario, CA||28.7%|
|3||Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX||27.9%|
|4||Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX||27.8%|
|5||San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX||26.8%|
|7||Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA||26.4%|
The Sunbelt continues to dominate when we expand the list to all 350-plus U.S. metros. Laredo, Texas, has the largest share of kids, 35.1 percent, followed closely by Provo, Utah, at 35 percent. McAllen, Texas, is third, followed by Brownsville, Texas, and Visalia, California. Smaller metros in Texas and Utah dominate the list: These two states account for six of the top ten metros where children make up the largest shares of population.
Overall Metros with the Largest Shares of Children Under 18 Years of Age
Share of Population
|7||Idaho Falls, ID||32.2%|
The high shares of children in Utah metros reflect the large Mormon population there. Roughly two-thirds of the state is Mormon, and a 2009 Pew Center survey found that that nearly half of all Mormons (49 percent) have children at home, compared to only 35 percent of the American population broadly. Only American Muslims are more likely to have children at home.
So which areas of the country have the fewest kids? The large metros where kids make up the smallest share of the population are something of a mixed bag, as the table below shows.
Large Metros with the Smallest Shares of Children Under 18 Years of Age
Share of Population
|2||Tampa, St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL||21.1%|
|3||San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA||21.2%|
|4||Providence-New Bedford-Fall River, RI-MA||21.5%|
|6||Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY||21.6%|
|7||Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL||21.6%|
|8||Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT||22.2%|
These metros include a number of dense, expensive knowledge and tech hubs, like third place San Francisco, as well as Boston in fifth and Seattle in tenth. But the list also includes older Rustbelt industrial centers. Pittsburgh, despite its turnaround, is the large metro with the smallest share of kids. Similarly, Providence ranks fourth and Buffalo sixth. The list also includes two fast-growing metros in Florida—Tampa-St. Petersburg and Miami—which continue to serve as retirement destinations, even as they attract lots of people and rapidly grow their populations.
When we look across all metros, the places where kids make up the smallest shares of population are a combination of retirement communities like Punta Gorda, where the average age is 64 (and which has the smallest share of kids of any metro in the country, with just 14.2), North Point, Florida and Barnstable, Massachusetts on Cape Cod, as well as college towns like State College, Pennsylvania, home to Penn State; Ithaca, New York (Cornell and Ithaca College); Blacksburg, Virginia (Virginia Tech); Morgantown, West Virginia (University of West Virginia); Corvallis, Oregon (Oregon State); Ames, Iowa (Iowa State) and Gainesville, Florida (University of Florida).
Overall Metros with the Smallest Shares of Children Under 18 Years of Age
Share of Population
|1||Punta Gorda, FL||14.2%|
|2||State College, PA||15.7%|
|6||Barnstable Town, MA||17.2%|
|10||North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota, FL||17.9%|
So what factors are behind this geography?
To get at this, Mellander ran a simple correlation analysis of the economic, social and demographic characteristics of metros that might be associated with having higher or lower shares of children under the age of 18. As usual, I point out that correlation does not equal causation. Still, her findings are suggestive.
First off, despite the notion that children are less likely to live in larger, denser places, we find little evidence to back this up. There is no association between the share of children and population and only a very weak correlation between it and density (.10).
Children are however somewhat less likely to live in more affluent metros. The correlation between per capita income levels and the share of children is negative and significant (-.31). In addition, children make up a smaller share of the population in metros where adults are more highly educated (with a negative correlation of -.32).
That said, we find no statistical association between the share of children and either economic output per capita or average wages. We also find little evidence that the share of children is somehow tamped down in metros with more high-tech, knowledge-based or creative economies. There is no statistical correlation between the share of children and the concentration of high-tech industry and only a very weak one to the share of the workforce that is comprised of the creative class (-.14).
Much has been made of the connection between having children and housing costs, but we find no evidence that the share of children is negatively impacted by housing costs, at least at the metro level. There is no statistical association between the share of children and median housing costs. This finding is, of course, for the broad metro level—housing costs may well play a role in pushing families with kids out of the urban core. That said, large metros have a wide array of communities and a wide variety of housing costs. Families with children can and do move from more expensive to less expensive locations within these metros. And as I pointed out recently, having children is a key factor in spurring the desire to move.
There is additional concern that growing inequality is causing people to have fewer kids. We find only a weak negative association between inequality (measured by the Gini Coefficient) and the share of the population made up of children under 18, with a correlation of -.14.
So what is associated with metros having a greater share of children?
Having a larger working class, for one. The share of children is positively associated with the share of workers doing blue-collar, working class jobs (.24). The share of children is also higher on balance in metros that are more politically conservative. There is a modest positive correlation between the share of children and the percentage of Romney voters (.20).
A bigger factor is immigration. The share of children is positively associated with the share of population that is foreign born, with a correlation of .32. According to the Pew Center, 13 percent of the U.S. population was foreign born in 2012, but 23 percent of the total U.S. births are to foreign women, as the graphic to the left, from Pew, shows.
But the biggest factor of all is ethnicity, specifically the share of population that is of Latino origin. This has far and away the biggest correlation in our analysis (.53). Of course, because some Latinos are recent immigrants, this association likely overlaps with that for foreign-born. Conversely, there is a more modest negative association between the share of children and the share of population that is white (-.34). There is no statistical association between the share of population that is either Asian or Black.
Our analysis confirms some but confounds other conventional wisdom about where exactly kids are in America.
It’s true that children are less likely to be found in more affluent, more educated, whiter metros. That said, we find little to no evidence that families with kids are being pushed out of denser, more knowledge-based metros. It may well be, and likely is, more expensive for families with kids to settle in the urban cores of these metros, but these large metros also have varied neighborhoods where families with kids can settle. And on the flip side, kids are more likely to be found in more working class, more politically conservative metros.
The biggest factor of all appears to be immigration. Kids are far more prevalent in metros where immigrants and Latinos make up larger shares of the population.
*CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated that parts of southern California are among the metros with the lowest shares of children under 18. It is actually metros in central California.