How might Seattle’s demographic changes be affecting the city’s political discourse?
The recent city council races, a ferocious tug of war between the city’s more progressive and moderate wings, reflected a highly polarized electorate (primary results suggest that the progressives seem to be winning).
Demographic trends could be playing a behind-the-scenes role in the current state of divisiveness. You may not have noticed this happening, but the generation gap between Seattle residents has grown a lot wider, and at a remarkably fast pace.
Census data shows that in the 10-year stretch from 2007 to 2017, nearly all of the city’s growth among the adult population (age 25 and up) has come from two groups: millennials and baby boomers.
Here’s what the numbers show:
From 2007 to 2017, the number of 25-to-39 year olds in the city increased by about 69,000, which pencils out to a growth rate of 43%. Most of this growth is from in-migration, as Seattle’s thriving tech-centered economy and outdoorsy lifestyle have been a magnet for young adults from around the globe.
And among Seattle residents age 55 and older, the population grew by 40,000, for a growth rate of 31%. This increase was due not so much to in-migration, but rather by the aging-in-place of the massive baby boom generation (those born between 1946 and 1964).
But those in the middle age bracket barely grew at all. The population of 40-to-54 year-olds inched up by about 2,000, for a growth rate of less than 2%. As a result, this age group represents a much smaller share of the adult population today than it did 10 years ago.
And that means that today a significantly greater share of the city’s adult population falls at either end of the age spectrum. In other words, we’ve got a lot of millennials and lot of boomers, and let’s face it — these two groups … well, they have some issues.
You’ve probably heard the needling. Boomers accuse millennials of being entitled, lazy and selfie-obsessed — and you can insert some bad joke about avocado toast here. Meanwhile, millennials think boomers have had everything handed to them — from cheap college tuition to cheap housing — and they blame them for climate change and other problems that younger people are going to have to fix.
And when you look at the demographic data on millennials and boomers in Seattle, it’s clear just how differently they experience life in the city.
For example, most Seattle boomers are homeowners who reside in a single-family house. The majority of millennials, on the other hand, are renters who live in apartments or some other type of multiunit dwelling. Boomers, unsurprisingly, have a much higher net worth, although millennials are a lot more likely to be college educated. Most boomers are married, while millennials tend to be single. And millennials are a more racially diverse generation, although still predominantly white.
Considering all that, is it any surprise these two groups might have very different ideas about the direction the city should be heading?
Census data also shows that younger Seattleites tend to cluster in different neighborhoods than older ones. That’s particularly true of the younger folks.
If Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood needs a new nickname, I suggest Millennial Mountain. In three of the census tracts that cover the heart of the Hill, more than half the residents are between the ages of 25 and 39. The neighborhood is a quick (though crowded) bus ride from the Amazon campus, and boasts tons of restaurants, nightlife and shops that cater to every millennial trend, from houseplants to gluten-free pastries.
There are other areas of the city where 25-to-39 year olds are the majority, mostly in central Seattle but also Fremont, Wallingford and Old Ballard.
People age 55 and up are not as concentrated in a handful of areas, but there are 16 city census tracts where at least one-third of the residents are in this age bracket. These are mostly in very residential parts of Seattle. There are a couple census tracts in North Seattle where folks 55-and-older make up nearly half the population, and more than 40% of residents in the Madison Park/Washington Park area are people in this age group.
While both millennials and boomers have seen their populations balloon in Seattle, the younger group is well ahead in terms of numbers. There were about 228,000 25-to-39 year olds in the city in 2017, compared with roughly 170,000 folks age 55 and up.