This is a guest post by Aaron Schiff, a freelance economist and data scientist. A version of this post originally appeared on his blog.
Many people aged in their 20s and 30s are leaving home, entering and/or completing education, are at the beginning of their working lives, and possibly starting families.
Changes in where people in this age group choose to live are interesting because many of these life events mean ‘youngish adults’ are finding new places to live, and are thus relatively sensitive to local housing prices and quality (either for renting or buying). In economist-speak, many people in this age group are ‘on the margin’ of the housing market, and will be sensitive to changes in housing supply and other market forces.
Arguably, a healthy city works well for its ‘youngish adults’ when it enables them to live in areas that have good access to jobs, transport, childcare, and other amenities. As younger adults tend to have lower incomes and fewer assets than older people, housing costs may also have more influence on the ability of younger adults to take risks, such as starting a business or exploring creative interests. And this in turn will affect the economic performance and vibrancy of the city.
Where did youngish-adult Aucklanders live in the early 2000s?
In 2014 (eight years ago now), I made some dot density maps of changes over time in New Zealand’s resident population aged between 20-34 years old, covering the period between the 2001 and 2013 Census years.
For Auckland, the most striking shift in this decade was the reduction in population of the 20-34 age group in city-fringe areas like Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Parnell.
Simple maps don’t explain why this happened. But it is plausible that – despite being desirable places to live due to proximity to the city centre and good local amenities – housing supply in these areas was restricted and became unaffordable for many ‘youngish adults’. With the exception of the CBD (thanks to its affordable apartments), people aged 20 to 34 tended to choose to live further from the city centre in 2013 compared to 2001.
And how about more recently?
Using some newer data, I’ve recreated these maps to show population changes over two separate decades: 2001 to 2011 on the left, and 2011 to 2021 on the right.
Each blue dot represents a one person increase in resident population over the decade shown, while each red dot is a one person decrease in population. (Note: the dots are randomly placed within each SA2 area, similar to a suburb – the exact locations where people live are obviously not published.)
You can see that for 2001 to 2011, the dark blue of the CBD with its many affordable apartments is surrounded by red on all sides. Over that decade, the total population of Auckland aged 20-34 increased by about 39,000 people – while fewer people in this age group chose to live in city-fringe suburbs and in Devonport / Bayswater on the North Shore.
In the following decade, between 2011 and 2021 there was a larger increase of about 84,000 people aged 20-34 in Auckland. Note that the CBD is still dark blue – but over a smaller area, possibly reflecting a shift of more affordable apartments ‘uptown’. Some of the CBD-fringe areas and the lower North Shore stayed red as in the prior decade, although with fewer dots; perhaps because most people aged 20 to 34 had already been priced out of these areas.
There are also some interesting reversals in areas just to the east and south of the CBD. Some areas saw the youngish-adult population decreasing (red) between 2001 and 2011, and then experienced population increases (blue) between 2011 and 2021. This could reflect planning changes opening up more land for redevelopment in those areas, leading to improvements in housing affordability and/or quality.
Between 2011 and 2021, there’s also a lot of population growth in relatively distant suburbs south, west and north of the CBD. In the northwest, Hobsonville stands out in this period, with its mix of relatively affordable dense housing obviously being attractive to the 20-34 age group.
Overall though, over the past decade many of these ‘youngish adults’ have chosen to live in relatively distant areas from the city centre.