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10 Trend Questions: An Update (Part 1)

Monday, February 4, 2019

Two years ago Demo Memo presented 10 vital demographic questions and asked how many answers to these questions we would have once we had more data in hand. Two years later, the same questions are still of great importance. We have more data. So how much more do we know? Let's take a look.

1. When will the baby bust end?
We now know it might not end. The decline in births since the 2007 peak is as great as the decline in the aftermath of the Great Depression (a 10.7% drop). But this may be more than a dip in the road. An analysis by the Center for Retirement Research suggests the fertility decline may be permanent, driven by structural changes in childbearing patterns. The United States appears to be adopting the low-fertility regime common in other developed countries.

2. Why is life expectancy declining?
In two of the past three years, life expectancy in the United States has declined. We now know that the declines in 2015 and 2017 were due in large part to rising mortality rates among people under age 65 – primarily from drug overdoses and suicides. The biggest increases in drug overdoses and suicide rates have occurred in rural areas – see Question 4, below.

3. Will homeownership make a comeback?
The homeownership rate hit a post-Great Recession low of 63.4% in 2016, then climbed to 63.9% 2017 – the first statistically significant rise in more than a decade. While the increase is encouraging, the homeownership rate is unlikely to return to the highs of the early 2000s.

The Millennial generation – now at the age of first-time home buying – is burdened by student loan payments. Student loans delay homeownership by seven years, according to the National Association of Realtors. Consequently, the age of first-time homebuying (the age at which the homeownership rate first surpasses 50%) has shifted from the early to the late thirties.

4. What will save small town and rural America?
Corporate America will not be coming to the rescue, judging by Amazon's choice to place its second headquarters in two of the largest and richest metropolitan areas in the country. The continuing allure of urban areas makes this question more important than ever – and we don't yet have any answers. But we may know more about why rural areas are falling behind.

A statistical concept called “gambler's ruin” explains it, says economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. The gambler (small town or rural area) who starts with the fewest pennies (economic opportunities) is the one most likely to go bankrupt. Small towns and rural America have a shrinking pile of pennies to play with and are increasingly likely to face ruin because of it. We still don't know how to solve this problem or even if we can.

5. When will Millennials marry?
The median age at first marriage continues to rise, reaching a new record high in 2017 of 27.8 years for women and 29.8 years for men. Why are Millennials delaying marriage? One reason is that a much larger share of them go to college, which delays marriage and childbearing. Another reason is student loan debt, which not only delays homeownership but also marriage, according to the National Association of Realtors

(Part 2 will be published in the March issue of Hearth & Home)

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