Mythbusters: Millennials Live in Cities

Much has been made of millennials’ preference for cities. For a long time, the prevailing narrative was that they favored urban spaces relative to the white picket fences of the suburbs. Although there’s been a shift in the narrative as some begin to take a closer look at the millennial urban dynamic, there’s still a view of of, for lack of a better term, of white Brooklyn hipsters.

Are Millennials More Likely to Live in Urban Areas?

The short answer is yes, but not to the extent you might think.

Overall, 30% of millennials (18-34) live in high-density urban areas. For context, this isn’t remarkably different from the 27% of the total U.S. population.

In fact, millennials are actually more likely to live in suburban and rural areas. Roughly 36% live in suburban areas and 33% live in rural ones. However, millennials are a bit more likely to live in urban areas compared to other generations.


Since the millennial years coincide with lifestage changes, it marks a time of true geographic mobility. They have more options in where they live. Moving from millennial to gen-X+, this share falls again as growing households move to lower density areas with more space.

On a macro-level, the fact that 70% of millennials live in non-urban areas is largely overlooked. Their distribution is not drastically different from other generations.

Drop the Brooklyn Hipster Image

urban-percent-by-race-ethnicityUrbanism is intertwined with multiculturalism. Across the board, multicultural individuals are more likely than whites to live in urban areas.

This holds true for millennials. Just 21% of white millennials are urban compared to 52% of Asian, 47% of Hispanic, and 37% of African-American.

Low urban living among whites is consistent across generations. Overall, this shows that drastic multicultural differences aren’t driven by migration. Multicultural millennials are more likely to be urban because they were born and raised there (as shown by the similar gen-Z patterns).

However, there’s evidence of white millennial urban migration. Only 15% of white gen-Zers are urban dwellers compared to 21% of white millennials. But this spike is smaller in comparison to the multicultural urban presence. When we look at urban areas in distinct geographies, they’re far more multicultural than rural and suburban ones. The millennial population in urban areas is 61% multicultural compared to 42% of suburban and 27% of rural areas.


Look at the Bigger Picture

Let’s return to our white Brooklyn hipster image for a a moment.  The charts below shows the racial / ethnic breakout of the 1.2 million millennials living in the area. There are just 510,000 white millennials.

Said another way, 510,000 millennials qualify as the image of a white, millennial Brooklyn hipster or roughly 0.7% of the overall 72 million large millennial population. While this is a silly statistic (and ignores the psychographics that define “hipster”), it challenges our collective picture of millennials.

This “segment” receives extra attention but they’re just a small part of the diverse millennial quilt.


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