New maps from the Census Bureau show where young adults lived between 1980 and 2013. While the DC area as a whole is aging, urban neighborhoods both in the District and throughout the region are getting younger.
Darker areas have a higher concentration of young people. Map from the Census Bureau, animated by the author.
The District rebounds after decades of losing young people
The Census Bureau released the full set of maps, along with data a set of maps and data that looks at the habits of Millennials, or young adults roughly between 18 and 34. Overall, Greater Washington, which includes DC and parts of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, is getting older.
In 1980, young adults made up 32.2% of the DC area’s population. By 2013, that share had fallen to 24.6%. Even though Millennials are flocking to the DC area, the population of older adults appears to be growing faster. That’s probably because Baby Boomers, who make up the largest portion of the population after Millennials, are aging.
Where young adults choose to live within the region has shifted over time. The District’s population of young adults fell from 34% in 1980 to 30% in 2000, before rebounding to 35% in 2013. While Millennials flock to Arlington, the share of young adults there actually fell from 38% to 36% during the same time period. Meanwhile, the percentage of young adults in the region’s other jurisdictions has fallen even more.
Young people want stuff to do, whether or not it’s in DC
This might prove the conventional wisdom is that Millennials are abandoning the suburbs for the city. But when you look at individual census tracts, it’s clear that young adults are clustering around the region’s activity centers: places with shopping, jobs, transit, and stuff to do, both inside and outside of the District.
Not surprisingly, there’s a huge concentration of young people in the core of DC, from Tenleytown and Columbia Heights south to Capitol Hill, and in Arlington along the Orange Line and around Crystal City and Pentagon City. And naturally, there are lots of young people around the region’s universities, like Georgetown, and military bases like Bolling Air Force Base.
From there, “fingers” of youth reach out along I-66 and the Dulles Toll Road in Northern Virginia, I-270 in Montgomery County, and Route 1 in Prince George’s County. These areas include both walkable downtowns like Silver Spring, as well as sprawling, car-oriented “edge cities” like Tysons Corner. What they have in common are lots of jobs and places to shop and hang out. These areas also track Metro’s Silver, Orange, Red, and Green lines.
No matter where they are, activity centers have seen their young adult populations explode. Census Tract 35 in the District, which covers part of Columbia Heights, grew from 26% in 1980 to 65% in 2013. As Fairfax County seeks to make Tysons a more urban place, the percentage of young adults in one of its census tracts tripled from 17.6% in 1980 to 50.7% in 2013. Alexandria’s Carlyle/Eisenhower area grew from 31% to 71% during the same time period, making it one of the region’s youngest neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, suburban neighborhoods get older
As activity centers get younger, bedroom communities are getting older. Even as Millennials flock to central DC, the percentage of young adults in far northeast DC and east of the Anacostia is falling.
Meanwhile, the string of affluent communities along the Potomac River, from Upper Northwest DC to Great Falls in Virginia and Potomac in Maryland, have aged dramatically. But so have further-out suburban neighborhoods that once drew young families seeking affordable starter homes. In 1980, young adults made up over 48% of Census Tract 7014.04 in northeastern Montgomery County, which includes Burtonsville. Today, they’re less than one-fourth of the population.
Jurisdictions compete for a smaller share of young adults
One of the reasons why DC and Arlington began chasing young adults, and why Montgomery and Fairfax are following suit, is because they pay more taxes than they require in services. With young people making up a smaller share of the region’s population, the fight to attract them (and their tax revenue) will grow more intense.
Urban places contain a major share of the region’s economic power. As long as young adults want urbanism, local jurisdictions will try to provide it.