Seattle was an “it” city for millennials in the 2010s — the huge influx of young adults was among our most notable demographic trends of the decade. Tens of thousands were drawn by the natural beauty, outdoors lifestyle, progressive politics and booming tech economy.
Now, a new study gives us a better sense of just how popular Seattle was among millennial movers, and also where those young people came from.
The study is a joint effort by researchers at Harvard University and the U.S. Census Bureau. They looked at the migration patterns of more than 31 million Americans born between 1984 and 1992 — this includes the bulk of the millennial generation — as they went from childhood to young adulthood.
As it turns out, the majority of Americans in this age group didn’t stray far from home. But the study found that among those millennials who did move away, 1.8% chose Seattle. That ranks as the fifth most-popular destination.
New York was at the top, attracting 3.2% of millennial movers, followed closely by Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. Seattle punched well above its weight in fifth place, attracting a greater share of millennial movers than many larger population centers, including Chicago.
The researchers used a unique data set, which combined decennial census, survey and tax data for these young Americans. Researchers looked at where these individuals lived at age 16, and then where they were living 10 years later at age 26 (the records were anonymized to protect privacy).
Because the age group studied were born between 1984 and 1992, the study covers the years 2010 to 2018 — the years in which these folks turned 26.
The data set counted about 480,000 people who were living in the Seattle area at age 26 in the 2010-18 period. Of these, about 300,000 were from here — in other words, they’d also been living in the Seattle area at age 16. The remaining 180,000 26-year-olds grew up somewhere else and moved here.
Typically, the Seattle area refers to the metro area of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. This study is a little different. Researchers used “commuter zones” instead of metro areas. Commuter zones (CZs) are collections of counties that serve as a measure of local labor markets. The data tracked the migration of young adults from all 741 CZs in the U.S.
These CZs are quite a bit larger than metro areas, presumably because some people take on insanely long commutes. For example, the CZ for Seattle stretches from Skagit County in the north to Lewis County in the south.
While the Seattle area was overall a top destination for millennial movers, the study found some differences along racial and ethnic lines.
Seattle was a top 10 destination for both white and Asian millennial movers, but not for Black and Hispanic ones. About 1.9% of white millennials who left their childhood area moved to Seattle, and around 3.3% of Asian movers chose Seattle.
Atlanta was the most-popular destination for Black millennials who left their childhood CZ, but it did not rank in the top 10 for white, Hispanic or Asian millennial movers. Los Angeles was the No. 1 destination for both Hispanic and Asian movers, while New York was the top destination for white movers.
The data also sheds light on where millennials who moved to Seattle came here from — and if you guessed California, well done.
Four of the top 10 origin CZs were in the Golden State, with Los Angeles easily taking the top spot — among those 26-year-olds in Seattle who lived elsewhere at age 16, nearly 7% came from L.A. The other California locales in the top 10 are San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego.
Two other faraway CZs — Phoenix and Chicago — also made the list.
But four of the top origin CZs for Seattle are closer to home, with Portland in the No. 2 spot, and Spokane, Longview and Yakima also in the top 10.
There were some notable differences along racial and ethnic lines among young movers to Seattle.
For example, Black millennials who left their childhood home for Seattle were the most likely to come from distant places in the Midwest, South and Northeast — 1.6% came from Atlanta, 1.5% from Chicago, and 1.1% from New York. For white, Asian and Hispanic movers to Seattle, no locale outside of the Western U.S. broke the 1% mark.
White and Hispanic millennials movers to Seattle were the most likely to come from other parts of Washington, although Hispanic movers in particular also came in large numbers from the Southwest, with about 9% of Hispanic movers to Seattle originating in Los Angeles. A large share of Asian millennial movers to Seattle — nearly 4% — also came here from Los Angeles.
While Los Angeles sent a lot of millennials our way, we returned the favor.
The data shows that among young people originally from Seattle who left the area, the top destination — attracting about 7% of all Seattle millennial expats — was the City of Angels.