Boston population changes over past two decades



Boston, on a bar chart:


Last week, the hub-bub on UHub was about Boston's changing demographics and the rise in the number of the college and post-college aged residents flooding the city.

The Boston Globe article that started the online conversation was about the rise in the 20-34 year old population, citywide level, but if you look at US Census Bureau data on a micro-level, there have been other significant shifts in population during the past two decades of equal or more significance.

What about on a neighborhood level?

I've put a series of charts up on Flickr, 17 in total, breaking down neighborhood populations by age group. (data on bar charts, here.)These are the age groups reported by the US Census Bureau. I took the data from the Boston Redevelopment Authority. (If you want to see the data from which I made the charts and download a set for yourself, go to my Google spreadsheets, here.)

What does it all mean? I'll leave it up to readers to interpret and to draw conclusions, but here's a couple questions to whet your appetites. For example: Does it matter that there are fewer people living in the outer neighborhoods? Is it a bad thing that the apartments being built in downtown Boston are all "luxury highrises" if that's where the population is rising? Why does the Boston public school budget keep going up if the number of students keeps going down? Why are we losing some of our 35-44 year old residents?

The first thing that popped out for me involved the percentage of people living in the city, in certain neighborhoods, of college age and older, and how they would have a lot of political power, if they voted and if they went to neighborhood association meetings.


Fenway, on a bar chart:


Looking at The Fenway, for example - probably 30-40% of residents are either undergraduate or graduate students, or just a couple years out of school. Yet, if you go to a neighborhood meeting, all you'll see are a bunch of grey-haired folk talking about the negative effects of institutional growth. The squeeky wheel gets the grease.

What does the data tell you?



Free tagging: 


Census Categories

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The data from the US census comes in those age groups. Doesn't mean some aggregation isn't in order, however ...


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or thanks adam for working on this...

3D charts

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Please don't use 3D charts. They are a major no-no in data visualization because they unnecessarily distort the sizes of different elements.

Thanks for putting these together

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This is really interesting stuff. Thanks for putting it together. I like the small age groups since it is easy to compare the shapes across the various neighborhood charts on your Flickr page. It might be interesting to see these as percentages or to list the total population of the neighborhood on the chart.

Demographic Politics

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I can see now why the politicians are blabbing to the Globe with all these vague statements about making the city "more hip" and "younger", etc. So far I've heard that we need to keep the bars and T open later.

But I'm in one of the neighborhoods where we have less of a bell curve in our chart. We have tons of children it seems (not just 20-somethings). It does raise a question for me about the future of our public school system. We'll see how many of these young people choose to stay or leave for someplace more affordable, and how much they will want to participate if they can't afford to buy a house and/or choose not to have children and so don't want to invest in our schools.

Not rocket science

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Nor do you have to be a rocket scientist to know this. Walk the streets and see who is waiting in line to get into the bars. Look at the crowds in package stores. It's not the past when "old" drunks were passed out or pissing in the streets, it's a new generation of pissing pukers. Churches are empty, no one volunteering to help the less fortunate. Partying until the sun comes up in the North End. It's the young "me" generation and they all want to live in the City.

Look at the crowds in package

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Look at the crowds in package stores. It's not the past when "old" drunks were passed out or pissing in the streets, it's a new generation of pissing pukers.

What do seasonal Greyhound drifters from states with less generous welfare, and other MA cities and towns which have closed their shelters to dump their problems on us, have to do with full time Boston residents?

"Churches are empty, no one volunteering to help the less fortunate."

Then why do with have non-profit homeless shelter operators collecting six figure salaries and all sorts of millionaire developers holding fundraisers as "Friends of Boston's Homeless"? I though churches throwing out centuries with a doctrine to embrace everyone with an anything goes attitude was supposed to be filling the pews?

Seriously, you are calling everyone else selfish for not subscribing to your world view and can't see the irony in it.

No data for the North End?

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The North End seems to have undergone a large demographic shift in the last 20 years. It would be interesting to see the numbers.

Revisions made

Thank you all for the constructive criticism.

I added new bar charts to hopefully make it easier to analyze.

You can see them, here:

I guess I thought people would be more interested in the data than in its presentation.

Putting this together was so tedious, I left out the most important part - clarity.

PS. The city doesn't break down the North End as its own neighborhood. Running the numbers for ZIP Codes 02109 and 02113 would give you this information.


The Allston-Brighton data seems kind of interesting to me. While the area continues to be massively dominated by those in their 20s, the number of residents between ages 45 and 60, while much smaller, appears to have grown by between 25 and 30% since 1990.

Reading the papers I'd have thought the opposite

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BPS keeps running out of space for our youngest students and the mayor talks about his 1 in 3 program etc. leading you to believe all these hipsters now control the city. But looking at these numbers almost all the growth over the past 20 years is in college kids (who apparently DO leave upon graduation) and baby boomers (which does bode well for the uberboom in uberluxury apartments/condos - although the raw numbers seem to indicate that this population's demand will still have a tough time keeping up with all the supply unless 100% of our new senior population buys/rents a $1 mm condo).

This is indeed a little discouraging - despite the population growth we've enjoyed it looks like it's almost 100% attributable to increased enrollment at schools and empty nesters selling out and moving into the city - as the less affluent next generation becomes empty nesters there would be some concern that they'll be able to continue to backfill the downtown market. It would be more promising if this growth were across the board - and that doesn't seem to be the case.


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A lot of the young people I know who are leaving Boston are doing it for jobs, especially after they marry. One spouse gets a job in the suburbs, and they move further out to accommodate the car and shorten the commute. With my PhD friends, a lot of them live in Boston for 5-6 years, and then go to post-doctoral or industry jobs in other cities and states.

There are no babies in my social circle yet (mid 20s-early 30s) so schools aren't a factor- pretty much everyone who's leaving is doing it for work. Boston has plenty of good jobs, but a lot of them are career tracks with high turnover.

Now if those 20somethings

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Now if those 20somethings would actually vote we could shitcan Menino and stop this city from rolling up the sidewalks at 2.

Good stuff

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Fun charts, nice work.

So Boston overall, you see declines from 0-17; increases from 18-29; declines from 30-44; then increases from 45-69.

So it will be interesting

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I'm guessing the large increase in college age/grad students is either from schools increasing enrollment and/or the city convincing more kids to list Boston as their primary residence on the census instead of their hometown/city.

Most interesting will be to see if the 50-plus crowd keeps coming - I expect that to continue for at least a few years -but as the baby boomers age - especially the more wealthy leading edge boomers who can afford downtown - will they move away? And if so, how does this get backfilled by younger Bostonians and suburbanites - or does it? My experience over the past 20 years has been - wealthy suburban empty-nester sells home, buys in the city - loves city life for a few years and then decides to enjoy their golden years in places like FL, ME , the Vineyard etc.

If we run out of wealthy pre-retirees, that can play havoc with a number of issues in the city from development to property taxes to any number of small businesses.

People who can, leave to have kids

Look at the neighborhood data. More college, grad students, and those starting careers. They leave once getting married and starting a family. Folks without money for a place in the burbs with decent schools stay trapped in the lower income areas. Some areas getting more trendy with young adults. Imagine the changes if 18-29 yo would only be aware and vote in local politics! Well, after learning to look for traffic before crossing the street...

Boston Trend Follows National Trend, New at 11!

So Boston overall, you see declines from 0-17; increases from 18-29; declines from 30-44; then increases from 45-69.

This mirrors the divergent sizes of recent generations. More baby boomers, fewer Gen X, more Gen Y, fewer whatever the next group is called. That pattern is true nationwide, and tells us nothing all that interesting about Boston itself.