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Generations in NYC, part 1: Generations 101


This month we begin a series looking into the different generations of New Yorkers; what they are, how the differences between them impact New York City’s labor force, and how they affect the city’s neighborhoods.

The cultural conversation about generations tends to greatly overgeneralize New York’s diverse age cohorts. As such, we’ll start by stripping away stereotypes and taking a clear snapshot of who in New York City makes up each generation.

For the purposes of this analysis, we’ll be using the generational distinctions originally outlined by the demographers William Strauss and Neil Howe and commonly used in the rest of media. We’ll refer to the current generation as the “Homeland Generation,” as a tribute to Strauss & Howe. The generations are as follows:

  • Traditionalist Generation: born 1925–1942, current age: over 75
  • Baby Boomers: born 1943-1960, current age: 57–74
  • Gen X: born 1961–1981, current age: 36–56
  • Millennials: born 1982–2000, current age: 17–35
  • Homeland Generation: born 2001–present

Aging in New York City

Before we get into individual generations, we’ll start by taking a clear snapshot of New York City as a whole. The 2015 American Community Survey[1] estimates that there are 8,551,938 New York City residents. The majority of New Yorkers are Female (52.3%) and over a third (37.5%) were born outside of the US. New York City is majority-minority, meaning that no single racial group makes up over half of the population. Instead, 32.1% of New Yorkers identify as White (non-Hispanic), 29.1% identify as Hispanic or Latino, 22.0% identify as Black or African American (non-Hispanic), 14.1% identify as Asian (non-Hispanic), and 1.8% identify as bi-or-multiracial (not including Hispanic/Latino).

There are 2.4 million each of Millennials and Gen Xers in New York City, making up 28.9% & 28.5% of all residents, respectively. The generation now leaving the labor force, the Baby Boomers, and the one yet to enter, the Homelanders, are the next largest generations—with 1.5 million Boomers, at 17.9% of the city’s population, and Homelanders at 17.8%. Millennials and Gen Xers make up larger shares of the city than they do the country as a whole, while Homelanders and Baby Boomers are less prevalent than they are across the country. New York’s oldest generation, the Traditionalists, actually make up a larger percent of New Yorkers (6.9%) than the country as a whole (6.2%). The estimated 580,000 New Yorkers over 75 years old may have stayed in—or moved back to—NYC or this may be a factor of New York’s above-average lifespans.[2]

Diversity within, and between, Generations

Traditionalists, those in New York’s oldest generation, are overwhelmingly female (61.2%), perhaps a testament to the longer lifespan of women.[3] Baby Boomers, in turn, are 55.1% female, while following generations are closer to a 50%-50% split. Furthermore, 45% of Traditionalists are White, but this share has fallen through the generations—Gen Xers and Millennials both are 30.9% White. Meanwhile, Hispanic/Latino makes up only 20.6% of the Traditionalists, but the share has risen in each subsequent generation. 35.1% of Homelanders born so far are Hispanic/Latino; Homelanders will be the first generation where “White alone” will not be the largest racial/ethnic share.

By contrast, the share of African Americans and Asians in New York City is remarkably consistent from generation to generation. An estimated 23% of Baby Boomers reported as Black or African American (non-Hispanic) making up the largest share of any generation, while “only” 21% of Millennials identified as Black. The share of each generation that is Asian remains similarly consistent, always falling between 11.3% (Traditionalists) and 15.5% (Gen X).

While over a third of New Yorkers were born outside of the US, this varies from generation to generation. Only 6.7% of the city’s youngest generation, the Homelanders, was born outside of the US, as children under 15 have barely had time to move to New York City from abroad. While the kids in the city were mostly born here, adult generations still hold the creed of the great American Melting Pot. 44% of non-Homelanders are immigrants and over half of Gen Xers (52.4%) and Baby Boomers (51.8%) currently living in New York City were born outside of the US.

Where do the Generations Live?

Whether because of active decision making or the natural timing of the growth of different boroughs, it should not be surprising to hear that each of the boroughs has a distinct generational makeup.

The Bronx is for the kids. At least, that’s where the Homelanders make up their largest proportion of a borough at 21%, despite being only 18% of the city’s population. Meanwhile, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists make up a smaller share of the Bronx than they do anywhere else, at 16% and 6% respectively. Older New Yorkers reign supreme in Staten Island, where the Boomers make up a full 21% of the borough.

Millennials are the generation most likely to cluster in—and away from—different areas of the city.  Millennials make up 29% of the city, but only 25% of Staten Island, giving further evidence to an older makeup of Staten Island. Millennials make up 33% of Manhattan, the largest share of any generation in any borough, but Homelanders only make up 13% of the borough, far below their share of the city as a whole. The Traditionalist generation also makes up a larger share of Manhattan than they do for any other borough, so perhaps the lesson is that Manhattan is for people without children, both for those yet to start families and those whose children have moved away from home.

Having children seems to impact what borough different generations of New Yorkers call home, but immigration has an even larger role. Queens has a reputation for diversity and welcoming immigrants, a reputation which holds through the data. Among Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, almost two thirds of all Queens residents are immigrants. 40% of Millennials in Queens are immigrants—higher than in any other borough, while 56% of Traditionalists in Queens are immigrants—just below the 57% of Traditionalists in Brooklyn. This paints a picture of WW2 refugees and immigrants around that time moving to Brooklyn and Queens in equal measure, while Queens has been the home of more recent immigrants.

What do the Generations do for work?

While Homelanders have yet to enter the work force, all other generations play a major, and distinct, roll in the city’s economy. Although only 13% of Traditionalists are still in the workforce, they more than carry their weight in the Real Estate and Education industries. Less than 3% of employed New Yorkers work in Real Estate, Rental, and Leasing, yet over 6% of Traditionalists still in the work force are in that industry. Similarly, the Educational Services industry makes up 9% of all employed New Yorkers, but 14% of employed Traditionalists.

Meanwhile, Baby Boomers are more heavily weighted in industries like Health Care, and Transportation and Warehousing. The latter makes up 5% of the city’s work force, yet 7% of employed Boomers are in this industry. While Health Care is easily the largest industry in NYC, making up 17% of the labor force, 22% of employed Boomers work in this sector.

In the Food Service and Retail industries, Millennials make up a larger share than average. 9% of employed New Yorkers work in Retail and 8.5% work in Food Service. However, of employed Millennials, 13% work in Retail and 12% work in Food Service. Meanwhile, every other generation is below the citywide percentages in those industries.  Whether the abundance of generations in certain industries can be attributed to the education or culture of that generation, or to natural market progression, will be the topic of the next installment in this series.

[1] All Data in this report is taken from the 2015 ACS 1-year estimates, except where noted.

[2] According to the April 2017 NYC-DOH report, life expectancy in NYC is 81.2 years, compared to 76.4 years in the US at large (according to the World Bank)

[3] According to the April 2017 NYC-DOH report, Female life expectancy in NYC is 83.5 years while Male life expectancy is 78.6 years.

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