The Radical Transformation of America’s Suburbs


A radical transformation of America’s suburbs has taken place over the last few decades.

Today’s suburbs bear little resemblance to the postwar suburbs where mostly white middle-class families lived in neat rows of cookie-cutter houses.

What would stick out most if Ward and June Cleaver time-traveled from 1950s to present-day suburbia? Probably more than I can imagine, but here are three observations they’d likely make about modern-day suburbs:

America’s suburbs are booming.

Americans have been migrating from the city to the suburbs for years, drawn by the appeal of newer and more affordable housing, better-performing schools, safer communities, and proximity to jobs.

In 2010, suburbanites outnumbered city and rural dwellers combined for the first time. While only one third of Americans overall lived in the suburbs in the 1950s, today 64% of Americans live in the suburbs.

The suburban migration is showing no signs of easing up.

In response to the COVID pandemic and the rise of remote work, about five million Americans relocated between 2020 and 2022 – many from urban to suburban areas. Pew Research Center found that the number of net new households that moved to the suburbs in the U.S. grew by 43% in 2020 compared to 2019.

Over the last decade, roughly 80% of all job growth took place in the suburbs. This trend appears to have accelerated during the pandemic. A sampling of counties by the American Communities Project revealed that the largest cities lost the most jobs (10%) between September 2019 and September 2020.

America’s suburbs are diverse.

No longer bastions of homogeny, today’s suburbs are racially, ethnically, generationally, and economically diverse.

In 1950, over 50% of suburban households were white middle-class families with a stay-at-home mother, a working father, and children. These “nuclear” families made up only 20% of suburban households in 2012. In 70% of these households, both parents were employed.

In the 50 largest U.S. metro areas, 44% of residents live in racially and ethnically diverse suburbs (defined as 20% to 60% nonwhite).

Between 2010 and 2020, whites accounted for less than 4% of suburban growth. Hispanics accounted for nearly half of suburban growth, with Asians, African Americans, mixed race, and other groups making up the balance. Today, 52% of African Americans in the nation’s top 100 metro areas live in the suburbs of those regions.

Since 2000, immigration has had a greater impact on America’s suburbs than on the urban core counties. According to Census data, 51% of the nation’s immigrants lived in the suburbs of our largest metros in 2000. By 2013, that number increased to 61%.

Today’s suburbs are seeing a growing number of residents at the younger and older ends of the age spectrum. Between 2000 and 2018, the suburban population under 25 years old increased by 3.3 million and the population over 64 years old increased by 5.2 million, according to the Pew Research Center.

Suburban poverty is also on the rise.

Since 2000, the suburbs have seen a 51% increase in the number of people living in poverty. Cities and suburbs saw increases of 31% and 23% respectively during this timeframe. Today, 49% of the U.S. poor population lives in suburban and small metro counties. Thirty-four percent of the U.S. poor population lives in cities, and 17% lives in rural areas. The overall poverty rate, however, is still slightly lower in suburban counties.

America’s suburbs may not look anything like your typical suburbs.

A different kind of suburb is emerging that’s a whole lot more rural than your typical suburb. The unfortunately dubbed “exurbs” were the hottest destination for white-collar Americans fleeing cities during the pandemic.

Exurbs lie far beyond the traditional suburbs perched on the city outskirts. They tend to be in more rural areas that offer few, if any, of the amenities found in the suburbs or cities. Exurbs also tend to be spread out and less walkable than cities and many suburbs.

Exurbs offer more affordable housing and less congestion, crime and pollution than their suburban or urban counterparts. On the other hand, exurbs are often so remote they have no municipal services, such as water, sewer, and garbage pickup.

How compatible are you with the suburban lifestyle?

Before you move to the suburbs, or farther out to the exurbs, make sure you’ve chosen the type of location that’s compatible with who you are and the way you want to live. How do you do this? Click here to take the free place personality type quiz! Within minutes, you’ll find out if you’re best suited to living in a city, suburb, small town or countryside!

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About the Author

I founded Your Place Finder in 2017 to help retirees and almost retirees like you anticipate and overcome the pitfalls and challenges – and reap the rich rewards – of finding the perfect location to move for retirement.

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