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Generations in NYC, part 2: What’s the Generational Makeup of Your PUMA?


This is the second installment of our 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.

In the first installment of our series on generations[1], we gave a snapshot of each generation in New York City. This snapshot broke down the generations by demographic and employment trends and gave an overview of where each generation lives. We found higher than average proportions of Baby Boomers in Staten Island, Millennials in Manhattan and Homelanders in the Bronx. (What’s a Homelander? See here.)

Each of the city’s boroughs, however, is the size of a large city; Brooklyn and Queens are each more populous than Houston, while Staten Island beats out Atlanta (in terms of population). Because each borough is so large and diverse, this installment looks into how each generation is represented in New York City’s 55 PUMAs. For this analysis we’re using the 2016 American Community Survey – the census’ annual estimates.  The ACS identifies 55 Public Use Microdata Areas, or PUMAs. Through collaboration with the NYC DCP, PUMAs largely overlap with New York’s Community Districts and range from 100,000 to 250,000 people per PUMA.

Now, before you run out with binoculars searching for one of these, for our purposes, a PUMA is a “Public Use Microdata Area,” a geographic unit used by the US Census for providing statistical and demographic information.[2]

PUMAs with the highest and lowest percentage of a particular generation:

While much of the city is full of people of every age, and no generation makes up a majority of any PUMA, some PUMAs clearly trend toward certain generations. For instance, Millennials and Baby Boomers in particular seem to have divergent interests in deciding where to live. Millennials cluster in areas generally accessible by public transportation and that are close to jobs in Manhattan, while they avoid the most inaccessible (by subway) parts of the city. On the other hand, Baby Boomers generally trade convenience for space, living farther from Manhattan, in less dense areas with larger apartments, (while still avoiding the cramped apartments of north Brooklyn). Manhattan’s Upper West Side is the exception to this trend, with the largest proportion of baby boomers across the city. This may indicate that an entrenched community can be valuable enough for residents to avoid leaving even if a move would offer different benefits. The decision to stay however, may be one that only wealthier Boomers have the luxury of making, as the median rent for Baby Boomers in the Upper West Side is the third highest for any of the city’s PUMAs. 

Manhattan’s Not for Kids

Manhattan’s small apartments, while attractive to Millennials, prove difficult for families with children. Of the city’s 55 PUMAs, the six with the lowest proportion of Homelanders are all in Manhattan—specifically the areas adjacent to- and below Central Park. This is most dramatic from Chelsea to Times Square and Hell’s Kitchen, where only 8 percent of residents were born in the 21st century.

Although children are largely absent from Manhattan, in the PUMA that includes Borough Park, Kensington, and Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, Homelanders make up 35 percent of the population. Interestingly, Homelanders are generally the children of Gen Xers and tend to live with their parents, yet Borough Park has fewer Gen Xers than any other PUMA in the city. This might be caused by the particular demographic makeup of the Borough Park community, where parents are among the youngest in the city and the average number of children per household is easily the highest in the city.

Older Renters, Lower Rents

Residential distribution by generation is strongly tied to rents and shows some interesting trends. For one, older generations tend to pay lower rents than younger generations in any particular PUMA. For example, Millennials pay the highest rents in 43 of New York’s 55 PUMAs—albeit often only slightly more than Gen Xers. And in 51 PUMAs, Baby Boomers pay less than either Millennials or Gen Xers. Finally, Traditionalists pay the lowest median rent of the five generations in 49 of the 55 PUMAs in New York. Lest you think that older New Yorkers simply have an eagle eye for good deals, every adult generation in New York has lived in the same place for longer than the next—meaning that Traditionalists were signing leases before some Millennials were born.

Interestingly, Millennials, while paying higher rents than other generations, are neither making more money nor are they more rent-burdened. Older Millennials, 29 years old and up, earn comparable incomes to Gen Xers, but it’s not only these older Millennials paying higher rents. Millennials across the board are paying more in rent, and they’re doing it by taking on roommates and divvying up the rent as much as possible. While other generations move to larger, more expensive spaces as their income increases, Millennials stay put but take in fewer roommates as they can gradually afford larger portions of the rent.

Changing Neighborhoods

Rental trends provide insight into how the city has changed over time as well as the impact of long-time residents paying lower rents. For example, in the Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope PUMAs in Brooklyn and in Manhattan’s Battery Park City and Greenwich Village, the median rent for the younger generations is about double the rent for Boomers (and even more than that compared to Traditionalists). Though it might seem distant now, these areas were relatively inexpensive in the wake of 9/11 and were inhabited largely by Baby Boomers, then in their 40s and 50s. Development of waterfront parks and new construction in the early 2000s created high demand for residential space in these PUMAs, especially among the Gen Xers and Millennials now moving into the city. Baby Boomers found themselves in rent-stabilized apartments or similar situations while rents for younger people moving in skyrocketed.

As we have seen, each generation has different interests and priorities in deciding where to live. As these generations move into and around the city, their priorities influence which PUMAs become desirable and therefor expensive. Millennials have prioritized central areas with good access to public transit and this preference has changed both Downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn accordingly. We should expect that Homelanders, once they leave the nest, will soon decide what PUMAs appeal to them and exert a similar influence over the growth of the city. We can’t wait.

[1] Traditionalist Generation: born 1925–1942, current age: over 76

Baby Boomers: born 1943-1960, current age: 58–75

Gen X: born 1961–1981, current age: 37–57

Millennials: born 1982–2000, current age: 18–36

Homeland Generation: born 2001–present

[2] For this analysis we’re using the 2016 American Community Survey – the census’ annual estimates.  The ACS identifies 55 Public Use Microdata Areas, or PUMAs. Through collaboration with the NYC DCP, PUMAs largely overlap with New York’s Community Districts and range from 100,000 to 250,000 people per PUMA.

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