Source: Wason Center for Public Policy. Click for legible image.

by James A. Bacon

Three out of four Virginia Millennials (belonging to the 18- to 36-year-old age cohort) are largely satisfied with the quality of life in their communities. But local quality-of-life indicators often fall short of what Millennials are looking for, and many are open to moving to other parts  of Virginia or even to other states. So finds a new survey of 2,000 young adults in “Virginia Millennials Come of Age” by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.

The survey covered a wide range of topics, including political involvement, civic engagement, personal financial outlook and news sources. But of particular interest to this blog are the questions relating to quality of life. Given that creative and educated young adults contribute disproportionately to a region’s innovation and vibrancy, community leaders need to understand the factors that attract and drive them away.

Judging by the metrics selected, Millennials in Northern Virginia are most satisfied with the quality of life in their communities (despite the traffic!), followed by Hampton Roads. They are less satisfied in the Richmond region, and least satisfied in South/Southwest Virginia.

The metrics include: access to public transportation, walkability, proximity to work and/or school, proximity to parks and shopping, a mix of housing, good public schools, safe neighborhoods, proximity to family, a diverse population, and having enough people of their own age. (Those are all reasonable metrics, but I would argue that the list is incomplete and, therefore, gives an incomplete picture. How about the cost of living? Or the quality of the food scene? Or proximity to arts and culture? Or opportunities to engage in the community — a factor rated highly by Millennials, according to the survey?)

The survey asked respondents to evaluate how important these quality-of-life indicators are when thinking about moving somewhere new, and how well each one describes their present community. The "gap" represents the difference between the two.
The survey asked respondents to evaluate how important these quality-of-life indicators are when thinking about moving somewhere new, and how well each one describes their present community. The “gap” represents the difference between the two. (Click for larger image.)

Wason didn’t analyze the data this way, but I find it interesting that proximity to amenities — work, schools, shopping, entertainment, parks and recreation — all ranked in the top half of the list. The desire for compact communities is reinforced by the identification of “walkable areas” as a priority. It stands to reason that neighborhoods in which amenities are “close” are also more walkable.

Virginia policy makers should pay close attention to this finding as they think about transportation and land use priorities.

The desire for proximity and walkability does not translate into a wholesale endorsement of the Smart Growth agenda, however. The desire for a “range of transportation options” — which presumably includes mass transit — was second lowest on the list. The perceived gap between the ideal and reality was negligible.

Likewise, the desire for a “mix of types and values of housing” was only middling. However, I’m not sure that most respondents had a clear idea of what the question meant. Did they think it referred to communities in which housing was integrated with offices, retail and other amenities — the Smart Growth desiderata? Or were respondents focusing on the importance of “affordable” housing? Two very different things A follow-up survey might delve deeper.

Also interesting is the fact that a “diversity of people in the area” ranked lowest on the list. That may not be a topic that preoccupies the average Millennial as much as it does the academic community.

The old-fashioned values of safe neighborhoods and good public schools also rank high. (It would be interesting to see how Millennials without children compared to Millennials with children in evaluating the importance of public schools. I would be willing to wager that parents consider school quality a lot more than singles do.)

All things considered, the survey results suggest that Virginia lawmakers and civic leaders have cause for concern if they want the state to remain an attractive location for young people. Virginia Millennials are highly mobile, with 65% saying they are thinking about moving within the next five years. Of those, 38% say they would consider moving to somewhere else in Virginia, and 27% somewhere outside of Virginia. Within Virginia, Northern Virginia is by far the most popular destination. Regions in the rest of the state have their work cut out for them.

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3 responses to “What Virginia Millennials Are Looking For”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    well.. let’s add some “stuff”:

    Millennials (18-36) comprise 24% of the US population (77 million individuals), on par with Boomers (1946-1964) and Gen Z (born 1995-present);

    The median income for younger Millennials is $25k, while it’s almost double that ($48k) for older Millennials;

    Millennials account for 1 in every 5 same-sex couples;

    Only 21% of Millennials are married, while 42% of Boomers were married at their age;

    Almost 1 in 4 (23% to be exact) have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, making them the most educated generation;

    Millennials are the most ethnically and racially diverse generation, with 19% being Hispanic, 14% African-American and 5% Asian;

    As for those Millennial mothers, some 36% of Millennial women have had children;

    About 2 in 3 Millennials are US-born;

    An impressive 38% of Millennials are bilingual, up from 22% in 2003.

    So where are Millennials most likely to be found? The study points to an increasing desire on their part to live in urban environments, doing away with the suburban picket-fence mythology.

    Interestingly, the top markets by concentration of Millennials are primarily in the Western side of the country, while for Boomers, the top markets are mostly on the East Coast.

    Here are the top 10 markets by concentration of Millennials, along with their index relative to the rest of the country:

    Austin, TX (120);
    Salt Lake City, UT (117);
    San Diego, CA (117);
    Los Angeles, CA (117);
    Denver, CO (109);
    Washington, DC (109);
    Houston, TX (108);
    Las Vegas, NV (108);
    San Francisco, CA (107); and
    Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX (106).

    And the top 5 for Boomers?

    Portland-Auburn, ME (117);
    Burlington, VT-NY (114);
    Albany, NY (111);
    Hartford & New Haven (110); and
    Pittsburgh, PA (109).

    1. Interesting stats. Fits quite well for my children who are Millennials. NoVA fits article quite well. From the paved path areas in Burke we can get to the grocery stores and AMTRAK/VRE station (walkability). Not to mention slugging lines and Metro and 2 airports.

  2. Cville Resident Avatar
    Cville Resident

    I’m afraid that Question 15 is part of the ticking time bomb that I keep trying to highlight.

    You see so many in Southside/SWVA looking to leave and barely a trickle of millenials would move into those areas. And no one on the state level seems to really grasp how bad this could all end without proper planning/policy.

    These areas don’t consume a lot of gov’t services, but let’s face it, every area has to have a baseline of gov’t services (roads, schools, law enforcement). As more and more population leaves, there’s a smaller and smaller tax base. And what makes this survey very relevant is the fact that the young people in Southside/SWVA are looking to leave. Question 15 indicates that 47% of the young people in those regions are looking towards the Urban Crescent. Thus the subsidies from the Urban Crescent will have to get larger to go to those areas. I think the next major recession is going to be an inflection (crisis) point in terms of this arrangement.

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