The bomb has already exploded and suburbia has been left childless. Suddenly, it’s not just rural areas and the Rust Belt that’s losing population. Even, Beaver Cleaver’s neighborhood has no kids. That’s what’s contained in the 2010 Census. Very few of the 3143 American counties report any growth in population and many [58.6%] report steep declines. Children used to make up 25.7% of the population, even a scant 10 years ago. Now, children are 24% and still declining. In only 49 counties did the kid population increase, most in suburbs around mid-sized cities like Charlotte, NC.
Los Angeles County, as reported in the L.A. Times, is losing children at a rapid rate due to the high cost of housing and the high unemployment rate. Too, hard times have led many new immigrants, many illegal, to return to their home countries, rather than tough it out here. That group had among the highest birthrates.
Time was when new schools were popping up all the time to accommodate the burgeoning baby boom. Now, even the youngest boomers are into advanced middle age. And, they have not produced children like their parents. As a result, the archetypal American neighborhood, Suburbia, USA, is increasingly childless. This fact is having massive impact in those communities. As in L.A. Unified, schools are closing, pools and recreation areas are shutting down. All the activities we associate with child-rearing are diminishing or eliminated altogether–youth sports, music and dance classes, martial arts, swimming, skiing, birthday parties.
With the vanishing children goes the need for the 3-bedroom, 2-bath home with yard. Perhaps, too, the whole concept of suburbia is fading as newer communities insist on walkability, proximity to shops and public transportation.
Who Will Be Future Home Buyers?
During the real estate boom, as home values moved inexorably upward, buyers spread out to purchase a second or even third home. Will this trend accelerate? It’s possible, yet, given the moribund state of housing right now, it doesn’t seem too likely. What does seem likely is that the buyers will increasingly be singles, childless couples, older singles and couples.
Where will they want to live? That, too, is not really known as yet. Many young singles spend their twenties in urban areas like San Francisco and Manhattan or Brooklyn, Boston or Miami. They are marrying later and putting off child-rearing to their thirties. Many of these want to stay in the urban core. With only one or, possibly, two children, that’s what they are doing. The childless couples are doing the same thing. They like the amenities so close by–public transportation, great shopping, wonderful restaurants. Why move?
The Baby Boomers, many of whom were themselves raised in Suburbia, also raised their own children there. But, the kids are long gone for the oldest boomers and going for the younger ones as now even they are in advanced middle age. No longer tied to school districts or commutes, many of the still-huge boomer generation are likely to leave the suburbs where they brought up their children in search of new horizons.
Effect On Today’s Housing Market
None of this is terrifically good news for today’s market of foreclosures, short sales and underwater property. If the kids are grown, why would a couple hang on to the four bedroom home on which they owe twice as much as it’s worth? They would be better off short selling the house and finding something smaller. On the other hand, if they were counting on sellling the home to move to a cheaper, slower-paced area, that option is closing fast as well. Not only has their equity dropped like a stone, but who is going to buy that big house? Who’s going to be rushing to the suburbs to buy anything?