Is Washington A Childless City?

Michael Lewyn's picture

One response to urban gentrification are the claim that even prosperous cities are childless cities, able to retain twenty-somethings but not to retain families.  A recent study of Washington by the Urban Institute allowed me to analyze this theory on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, rather than merely relying on citywide data.

In particular, I examined the Institute's division of the city into neighborhood clusters: groups of two or three similar areas.  I found that some types of neighborhoods were indeed losing children, but that other parts of the District actually became more attractive to families over the past decade.

The city's traditionally low-income areas east of the Anacostia River did indeed lose children; every single neighborhood cluster east of the river had fewer children in 2010 than in 2000.  In Ward 8 (the city's far southeastern corner) the number of children decreased by 16 percent during the 2000s.  Other poor areas in eastern Washington sustained similar losses.

In newly gentrifying areas just east of Rock Creek Park, the number of children declined even more rapidly.  For example, in the Mt. Pleasant/Columbia Heights neighborhood cluster (where the non-Hispanic white population nearly tripled between 1990 and 2010) the number of children decreased by 32 percent over the past decade.  In this area, it appears that working-class families left and middle-class singles and couples took their place.

But in the city's always-affluent areas west of Rock Creek Park, the number of children increased in six out of seven neighborhood clusters.  For example, in Georgetown/Burleith, the child population increased by 46 percent. 

So it appears that (at least in Washington) long-established affluent neighborhoods are able to retain families.

Michael Lewyn is an assistant professor at Touro Law Center in Long Island.


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