Families, and the lack of them, are emerging as one of the great political dividing lines in America, and much of the high-income world. The familial ideal was once embraced by all political factions, except on the extremes, but that is no longer the case.
Millennials have long been cast as the great progressive hope, or “New Progressive America: The Millennial Generation,” as one study would have it. 25- to 40-year-old Americans, already the largest portion of the current adult population, have been cast by progressives as “a hero generation” that will escape the material trappings of their Boomer parents’ suburban lives and pull American politics far to the Left.
To be sure, millennials are the most Democratic-leaning of generations, as the Pew Research Center found; they have close to a 60 percent fealty to Democrats, and their votes clearly helped get rid of Donald Trump. So it’s fitting that their avatar is the congressional “Squad” led by the ubiquitous 30-year-old Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of their own.
It’s also undeniable that the ideological cast of millennials, who will be the largest voting block by 2024, will shape our political future. But a closer look at millennial attitudes suggests that the difference between their lives and the lives of their parents is not always by design, and that given the choice, many millennials would prefer to be parents and enjoy family life in the suburbs (and the attendant centrist politics) than be the “heroes” of a left-wing movement.
You can see this in the fact that millennials have been increasingly leaving big cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago for more conventional locales, as an analysis of the past decade found. Millennials have spent the past 10 years moving en masse to less expensive, redder metros in the Sunbelt and to the suburbs and exurbs of select Midwestern cities like Columbus, Des Moines and Indianapolis.
Millennials just aren’t the overwhelmingly enthusiastic urbanites that people say they are; big skies and small towns are in high demand for a significant number of younger Americans. Some 26 percent told researchers they would like to end up in small-town or rural America, while another 39 percent are headed for the suburbs. This even applies to better educated workers, nearly 70 percent of whom prefer suburban or small-town living. This pattern is strongest among whites and Latinos, but even among African Americans, roughly half opt for suburban living.
And this desire to leave cities is correlated strongly with marital status. Almost a third of married millennials want to move out to the country—compared to 21 percent of singles. It reflects a political divide between primarily childless, left-leaning urbanites and more conservative or centrist families on the periphery.
Reflecting their geographic diversity, millennials are also proving less uniformly Left than imagined, as Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist, found; as they age and start families, millennials tend to focus more on economic improvement than abstract notions of cultural or social justice.
A poll of over 1,400 people sponsored by the Los Angeles Times and Reality Check Insights after the November 2020 elections revealed that a plurality of millennials consider themselves centrists. 50 percent are politically independent or lean only a bit in one direction, while another 16 percent are conservative. Just a third identify as liberal.
Read the rest of this piece at Newsweek.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.
Samuel J. Abrams is professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
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