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March 24, 2005


Dave Schuler

One peculiarity of our educational system is that even if the number of children in the schools decrease, spending on education will continue to increase: teachers have tenure and pay increases are programmed by time-in-grade and educational level and fixed by contract. If the number of students stays flat (or even decreases), I wonder if that won't tend to undermine support for the already-beleagured public school system?


I live in Portland about 6 miles from the Pearl in a little subdivision in the hills. It's teeming with couples with kids. In the summer, coming home from work in the afternoon I have to crawl through the neighborhood to avoid hitting a dozen kids running around playing. I like it.

Portland (except for the actual downtown trendy neighborhoods, like NW 23rd, Hawthorne, and now the Pearl) is abundant with kids. Go to Beaverton, Hillsboro, Gresham and surrounding towns, have a lot of families, churches, and the typical lifestyle you'd expect in 85% of the US.

The Pearl feels very much like parts of SF or Boulder to me. Very urban, caters (or attracts) to the shi-shi crowd. Young single professionals, artistic types (the ones who actually have jobs), empty nesters, gays and divorced folks seem to be flocking there.

It's actually a fun place to visit if you want fancy restaruant, expensive little boutique, or the highest per capita of hair salons in the nation.

But it would be a mistake to extapolate the demographics of this little oasis to greater Portland, let alone the state or nation...

Kevin T. Keith

I would guess that "single and unlikely to have children" is not intended as a euphemism for "gay".

There is a considerable minority of breeding-age singles and marrieds who do not plan to have kids. Some even tout it as the "child-free lifestyle," but whether it needs a name or not, it's true that the standard patterns of life of a generation or two ago - including child-rearing - are simply not regarded as obligatory by today's younger adults. And given the chance to think it over dispassionately and make a free choice, not a few find they don't have a strong drive for kids. (Note also that more than a few gays do have kids, or will have.)

I suspect that, given the relative proportions of straights to gays overall, the total number of (though a probable smaller percentage of) straights who opt out of child-raising likely outnumbers the total of (even though a probable larger percentage of) gays who do so in most cities.

Don't assume that all members of either group are going to make the same choices about children. Aside from other demographic factors, a major reason so many young people today do not have or plan on having kids is, simply, that they prefer it that way - whether gay or straight.

Patrick R. Sullivan

"As mayor of Seattle for 12 years, until 1990, Charles Royer started an initiative called KidsPlace, which has been widely copied by other cities. ....

"Mr. Royer said he was ridiculed for signs placed around town proclaiming 'Seattle is a KidsPlace' ....

" 'I said things like, "We don't want to be like San Francisco," but in the end, I don't think we were terribly effective at stemming that tide,' Mr. Royer said. "

That wasn't the only thing Royer was ridiculed for. He was one of the few mayors who had his own foreign policy (Seattle was a Sister-City with Managua, Nicaragua, and Tashkent in the then Soviet Union. It had an official policy of 'Sanctuary' for Salvadorans, and was just wild for the 'Nuclear Freeze')

In the meantime, the potholes didn't get filled, criminals took over the downtown streets, the schools deteriorated, and taxes rose. Imagine, they lost population to the suburbs!


Regarding your question about the political implications: Iif I recall correctly, there was quite a bit of coverage after the 2004 elections that the "exurban" communities which went heavily Bush were also the locus of dramatically higher-than-average childbirth, which was taken as a positive sign for the Republican Party long term. There is also James Taranto's much-discussed "Roe effect", which posits (with interesting, if not conclusive, statistical support) that abortion has disproprtionately dimished Democratic voters.


The Times article is slightly misleading--though I don't think intentionally so. Using the Pearl as a framing device made good metaphoric sense. But it's a recently-invented neighborhood that ten years ago was a dying industrial part of town. (I've lived in Portland since '86.) When the city rebranded it "The Pearl," they tore out warehouse innards and replaced them with half-million dollar lofts. The only housing available there are apartments. They are the most expensive dwellings, per square foot, in the city. So obviously 25-year-old parents are not flooding the joint.

As to the gay hypothesis: come on Tom. Even a wingnut would blush at having floated that. At something like 3% of the population, how do you account for gays and lesbians causing skyrocketing population growth? The article also mentions that the child population is down in North Dakota. A secret hub of gay activities? Perhaps HQ for drafting the "gay agenda?"

John Thacker

The big difference is expensive housing. In San Francisco, rent control + environmental restrictions make it worse.


As to blushing wingnuts, and this "secret hub of gay activities", what's that about? Is it the new gospel of the left that gays are not disproportionately found in cities?

And if I mention gays, does that make me a gay-basher hinting at secret cabals? C'mon, that's ridiculous.

BTW, North Dakota has been losing population for a century, IIRC.

Portland, if I am reading this right, has been adding people, but not kids. And not gays, either, just people who are "Single and unlikely to have children".

Fine, maybe Keith is right, and gays are just a subset of an emerging childless demographic - the urban childless. There is a story angle then - it ties in to demographic projections for the US, Social Security solvency, you name it.

Except I don't buy it.

If gays are 3% of the US population, would you guess they are 3% of the population of urban Portland? How about San Francisco?

Or maybe the Times is so hip that even mentioning gays as a separate group is totally yesterday. That is an odd choice, since so many cultural issues (like gay marriage) are in the news.

If I were a gay rights advocate, I don't know if I would be irked by this article or not - does it represent a new level of acceptance (to the point of not meriting any acknowldgement at all), or is my group being overlooked, and its politcal/marketing clout minimized?

We can file this under "who knew":

As for where they live, gay male couples largely prefer urban environments (45%) to suburbs (41.3%) and lesbian couples settle more often in suburban locales (46%) than city centers (38.2%). That compares to opposite-sex partners in the city of 35% and suburbs of 45.9%. Among rural couples, lesbians (15.8%) edged out gay men (13.7%) but predictably not opposite sex partners (19.1%). Interestingly, the South carried the largest number of same-sex couples counted (209,742), followed by the West (159,653), Northeast (119,246) and Midwest (105,705).

Now, that is not age-adjusted. The South could be driven by retirees (if am following, this was just an adult same-sex roommate census survey, not a sex-partner survey).

And there is no 1990 survey for comparison, to see if oposite-sex couples left cities in the 90's while same-sex increased.

Well. Here is a puzzler from the Brookings Institute, which was trying to study the growth of high-tech zones:

Gays and Growth

Perhaps our most striking finding is that a leading indicator of a metropolitan area's high-technology success is a large gay population. Frequently cited as a harbinger of redevelopment and gentrification in distressed urban neighborhoods, the presence of gays in a metro area signals a diverse and progressive environment and provides a barometer for a broad spectrum of amenities attractive to adults, especially those without children. To some extent, the gay and lesbian population represents what might be called the "last frontier" of diversity in our society.

As table 1 shows, 11 of the top 15 high-tech metropolitan areas (column 1) also appear in the top 15 of the gay index (column 2). The five metro areas with the highest concentration of gay residents—San Francisco, Washington, Austin, Atlanta, and San Diego—are all among the nation's top 15 high-tech areas. In our statistical analyses, the gay index does better than other individual measures of social and cultural diversity as a predictor of high-tech location. The correlations are exceedingly high and consistently positive and significant. The results of a variety of multivariate regression analyses support this finding. The gay index is positively and significantly associated with the ability of a region both to attract talent and to generate high-tech industry.

Gays predict not only the concentration of high-tech industry, but also its growth, as we found when we compared our gay index with the Milken Institute Tech-Growth Index, which measures growth in output of high-tech industries within metropolitan areas from 1990 to 1998 relative to the national growth rate in output of high-tech industries during the same period. Five of the cities in the top 10 in the Tech-Growth Index also rank in the top 10 for the gay index. What's more, the correlation between the gay index (measured in 1990) and the Milken Tech-Growth Index increases over time, suggesting that the benefits of diversity may actually compound as time goes on by increasing a region's high-tech prosperity.

Sorry, I have lost track of the argument - is someone telling me that gays are *not* an important and separate part of the story of the growth in urban areas, and that the Times was right to sweep them into a new, previously unheralded demographic group? Hmm.


Sorry, I have lost track of the argument - is someone telling me that gays are *not* an important and separate part of the story of the growth in urban areas, and that the Times was right to sweep them into a new, previously unheralded demographic group? Hmm.

This is not it at all. This is the second NY Times article with what you perceive as code words. You think that "Single and unlikely to have children" equals gays and "the complicated dynamics of her family life" means that Michael is an adultering scumbag.

Now you may in fact be right that the Times is using code words to avoid offending anyone. But what myself and others have tried to point out is that there are other interpretations for these "code words".

FYI - I fall into the single and unlikely to have children category and I am not gay (that I know of)


MattR, what part of "subset" did you take to mean "equals"?


Subset, huh? This sound like a subset to you?

"Single and unlikely to have children" - what is this, the demographic that dare not speak its name? C'mon, cities attract gay people. Why so coy at the Times - is this suddenly a secret? And how will they describe this demographic when gay marriage becomes a reality? Puzzling.

That was the original quote in the post and that is what I am refering to. He is clearly implying that the Times said "single and unlikely yo have children" when it was referring to gays.


Tom, I think that was a squid argument: you cloud the waters and sneak out before we figure out what the hell you're talking about.

Let's go back to the argument. Portland's school-age population is declining, even while its overall population is rising. The Times attributes this to young singles who aren't reproducing, using this language: "single and unlikely to have children."

To which you retort:

"Single and unlikely to have children" - what is this, the demographic that dare not speak its name? C'mon, cities attract gay people. Why so coy at the Times - is this suddenly a secret? And how will they describe this demographic when gay marriage becomes a reality? Puzzling.

You add additional info, culled from the Economist, that apparently heteros are doing their breeding part. Thus I deduce that your argument is:

1. The Times, which understands Portland's new immigrants are gay, won't fess up to this fact and actually conceals it with neutral beaurocratese.

2. Portland IS being flooded by gays, which is why we're not producing adequate quantities of tots.

3. (This is actually implied in your argument, but I'm a free-swinging liberal, and that means I occasionally cloud waters, too.) Gays and lesbians are the same as "singles."

I fault you thus: whether or not Portland and other blue state metropolises are attracting gay urban professionals in disproportionate numbers (according to the census, http://www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/censr-5.pdf>we are), the proportion won't account for the drastic loss of children. In fact, there is a category of "single and unlikely to have children," which means pretty much what it says. Some of us are gay some not. I fault you further for jumping to the conclusion that gay and lesbians are "singles," when in fact we in Portland--more than most cities--understand that marriage and homosexuality aren't incompatible.

Other than that, carry on.

Jim Miller

There's some history about Seattle's current lack of kids that deserves mention. Seattle had never had segregated schools. One of the high schools, Garfield, was actually about 1/3 white, 1/3 Asian, and 1/3 black in the late '50s. (Most people in the state found that a source of pride.)

But Seattle's school board decided that they needed to institute busing for racial balance anyway. Seattle's topography makes busing even more difficult than it is in most cities. It was particularly difficult for students in West Seattle, which has few road connections to the rest of the city.

White working class and middle class parents fled in droves to the suburbs, taking their kids with them. By the early 1980s, you had Mayor Royer wondering what had happened to all the kids and proposing silly schemes to bring them back. (I was living in the area at the time and he seemed honestly puzzled. But then was a TV personality (anchor, commentator?) earlier in his career, so there's no reason to assume he has a high IQ.)

Seattle finally was able to drop busing for racial balance when they had a black superintendent of schools -- but by then most of the working class and middle class white kids were long gone.

This exodus of parents also moved Seattle sharply to the left. I wouldn't be surprised if similar actions haven't had similar effects in other cities.


Indeed I was, and if that gave offense to anyone, I apologize. (Although one might wonder why it would).

Or, if folks think I am just being knuckleheaded, well... my gut reaction is not changing. I still think that urban areas have a higher proportion of gays (a belief since validated by Census data), that gays are an important part of the urban story (also justifiable), that gays have been in the news (painfully obvious), and that the Times should have mentioned them in a story about why urban areas are losing school age kids.

So, either they did mention them by absurd code (my first reaction), or there is a whole new demographic emerging - I honestly don't believe that the urban-hetero-always single-always childless lifestyle is old news. I *do* believe that young singles move to cities, get married, and leave with their kids to the 'burbs, but I would not describe that group as "Single and unlikely to have children".

So, can anyone point me to something showing marriage/cohabitation rates in decline, or fertility rates falling for women of childbearing age, or some such? I mean, that is pretty much the lifestyle depicted on the old Seinfeld show - maybe that was exactly what they meant.

Or, if that trend is not happening, what did the Times mean?


I should say, for the record, that I wasn't accusing you of homophobia. I've been reading long enough to discount that. I was merely playing gotcha, which was, I was under the impression, the reasons blogs exist.

THAT SAID, http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2003pres/20030625.html> I have data:

The U.S. birth rate fell to the lowest level since national data have been available, reports the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) birth statistics released today by HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. Secretary Thompson also noted that the rate of teen births fell to a new record low, continuing a decline that began in 1991.

The birth rate was 13.9 per 1,000 persons in 2002, a decline of 1 percent from the rate of 14.1 per 1,000 in 2001 and down 17 percent from the recent peak in 1990 (16.7 per 1,000), according to a new CDC report, "Births: Preliminary Data for 2002." The current low birth rate primarily reflects the smaller proportion of women of childbearing age in the U.S. population, as baby boomers age and Americans are living longer.

There has also been a recent downturn in the birth rate for women in the peak childbearing ages. Birth rates for women in their 20s and early 30s were generally down while births to older mothers (35-44) were still on the rise. Rates were stable for women over 45.

Good to know that rates were stable for women over 45. I presume women over 55 and 65 held steady as well.


This Business Week from 2003 is, at best, inconclusive - if there is an emerging hetero group planning to be single-childless, they got left out, with the arguable exception of Vincent, mentioned early.


I should say, for the record, that I wasn't accusing you of homophobia.

I didn't *really* think so, but with this Schiavo debacle, it has been a bit of a jumpy week - Peggy Noonan saying you lefties (and half the righties) are budding Nazis, MoDo insisting that I am a dupe of the theocrats (or one of their henchmen!) - ahhh!

OK, I need to go put a puppy in the blender...


This got me thinking. Shouldn't people who don't have children have to pay higher payroll taxes?

Robert Crawford

Maybe "single and unlikely to have children" is simply a reflection of the NYT reporter realizing it takes two people to spawn a child. After all, it was just a few years ago that Time magazine figured out men and women are different.


No, it's not just gay. "single and unlikely to have children" is not far from "living together and unlikely to have children." In modern liberal cities, people aren't having children. Having children would be expensive. they would have to give up lattes in the morning and sushi at night, and buying that $30 Syrah on Wednesday night. They want more stuff for them, and they aren't willing to give that up.

Those who did want children left the city for more affordable places with better schools, more parks, less junkies and needles on the street, and a place you could actually park a minivan.etc.

Patrick R. Sullivan

I'm gleefully waiting for our host to change the color of the blog in honor of the revolt in Kyrgyzstan.


I didn't *really* think so, but with this Schiavo debacle, it has been a bit of a jumpy week - Peggy Noonan saying you lefties (and half the righties) are budding Nazis, MoDo insisting that I am a dupe of the theocrats (or one of their henchmen!) - ahhh!

You know, I've been totally serene this week. It occurs to me that there are serious advantages to being wholly out of power. No matter what arises pisses someone off--that's the nature of politics--and now it's all your fault. It's a small and tattered lining, but it's silver nonetheless.


...there are serious advantages to being wholly out of power

LOL. Well, I am feeling pretty disempowered this week, but that may be a good thing - no one would want me to be King for a Day, anyway.


Like Francis, I have the distinct advantage of living in the PDX area, and I have to say that he nailed it.
With a data point of exactly one - the guy who resides in the productivy cube next to mine - the "villain" (if there is one) is not gays, it's DINKs. He's an engineer, she's a programmer, they aren't married, but they live in one of the converted M&F warehouse buildings.
The lack of kids in the Pearl is simply a matter of price; damned few young marrieds with kids can come close to affording it.



1. Singles/married people with no intention of having kids. If you look around this is going on all over the world. It's causing problems in Japan, Germany, France, Italy, etc etc etc. In Japan many rural men, in farming or fishing, are now going abroad for wives because Japanese women want no part of that lifestyle.

Being urban, chic, hip and self-centered isn't anything new. The degree with which this is going on is fairly new though and can probably be blamed on the welfare state.

2. The Brookings finding is just nonsense. So gays like urban areas and thus they are the harbringers of high-tech? No offense but has anyone tried to get a replacement laptop memory module in the White Mountains of NH? In winter?

Frankly IMHO the reason is that gays and techies tend to like many of the same things. Late night take-out or delivery, excellent coffee, flashy gadgets and something to do at 3am when a coding problem is preventing you from getting some sleep. You generally don't find these things in an Iowa cornfield. You might find a baseball field, but generally not a Starbucks.

Jack Tanner

Foo -

you forget another important aspect. L'il kids also can't take public transportation by themselves to day care and don't tend to want to wake up late and go for brunch. Besides the cost the self possessed actually would have to bring a diaper in their Coach bag. And the looks you get when they start screaming in a public place or poop in their pants. Need I go on?

Desmond Tutu Fan

Here is another reason why someone like me could be childfree by choice. It doesn't have anything to do with being either heterosexual,gay,married,or single. It also doesn't have anything to do with your finances or whether or not you are self-centered. Some of us have genetic diseases in our families and these diseases are not treatable or curable. There are several genetic eye diseases that are in my family and I don't want to pass them on to any children that I would have. I also cannot financially afford to have any children.

There are also some single people who simply haven't found a mate yet and don't want to have kids out of wedlock. Yet, there are also single people who do have kids. Some singles like me are also concerned about how our world is overpopulated. While most childfree people do not hate or dislike children, some childfree people cannot stand to be around children. I personally do not enjoy being around bratty children but I do not mind being around well behaved children. My two nieces, my youngest nephew and many of my young cousins do not bother me 99% of the time. However, my two oldest bratty nephews bother me almost every single time that I see them. When married couples decide to not have children, then their reasons are like the reasons of childfree single people.

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