Dr. Timothy Chapin

The Pig In The Python
 
 
By Dr. Tim Chapin
 
In the last two years there has been real concern in Florida as the state’s economy tanked, public and private revenues sagged, and demand for new housing essentially evaporated. The University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR) estimated that in 2008 Florida experienced its first net loss in population since World War II, sounding alarm bells in local commission chambers and at the State Capitol in Tallahassee. While the loss was miniscule in gross terms, with BEBR placing this decline at around 40,000 people, the symbolism of this figure was remarkable; Florida’s ever-expanding, real estate driven growth economy had not just slowed, but actually experienced a net loss, something unthinkable just a few short years ago. This figure garnered a great deal of national attention and raised questions about whether Florida was “over” (in the New York Times) and if the Sunshine State might be better branded the “Sunset State” (in Time magazine). However, the most recent population projections for Florida indicate that the state will still experience substantial growth in the coming decades, “only” gaining 2.5 million residents per decade, rather than the 3 million per decade experienced between 1960 and 2010.

Lost in this discussion about Florida’s population size is an equally important, if not more important change to Florida’s population. Between 2010 and 2030 Florida’s population composition will change in remarkable ways, with a large increase in the percentage residents in their retirement years (aged 65 and older). In 2000 17% of Florida’s population was aged 65 and up, the largest percentage of any state and a figure that underscored Florida’s reputation as a retirement state. By 2030 this figure is projected to swell to over 27%; in 2030 over one in every four residents in Florida will be of retirement age, although many of these residents will still be working and/or volunteering. By means of comparison, other large states will have far smaller percentages: Texas at 16%, California at 18%, and New York at 20%.

Unlike predictions about population growth for the state, this demographic change is a certainty; there are no state policies, nor public or private investments that can alter this future. Driving this remarkable demographic transformation in Florida and the United States in the next two decades is the aging of the Baby Boom generation into retirement. Baby Boomers are those individuals born in the United States between 1945 and 1964, during a period in which a perfect storm of events yielded this large generation of Americans. Rates of family formation and child conception were substantially down because of the Depression and then World War II. After the conclusion of the war, service men and women came home to an optimistic and victorious nation, one whose factories and infrastructure were largely untouched by the war.  This fueled the remarkable economic growth and expansion in the 1950s, as America became the world’s dominant economy.

 Taken together, these factors yielded a boom in the number of births during this period. Since its creation this generation has slowly been moving through the population, influencing popular culture, patterns of consumption, and housing markets in profound, but largely unnoticed ways.

Figures 1-3  illustrates the magnitude of this generation by presenting the age-gender make-up of Florida’s population through a very useful graphic called a “population pyramid”. Population pyramids show the percent of a population in each age-gender cohort in a year. A glance at these pyramids illustrates the size of the Baby Boom generation. Figure 1 shows that this generation was found in the younger age cohorts in 1970, by 2000 they had moved into middle-age, and by 2030 this cohort will be fully in their retirement years. The Baby Boom generation has been likened to a “pig in a python”, in that it mirrors the phenomenon of a snake swallowing a pig and then seeing that bulge move through the snakes system as it is digested. Over this period of sixty years, Florida’s population has transitioned from a “bottom-heavy” one, with consequent demand for schools, parks and recreation systems, and services aimed at younger families, to a “top-heavy” one with very different needs.
 
Figure 1
 
Figure 1 shows that this generation was found in the younger age cohorts in 1970, by 2000 they had moved into middle-age, and by 2030 cohort will be fully in their retirement years.
 
Figure 2
  Figure 2 The Baby Boom generation has been likened to a “pig in a python”, in that it mirrors the phenomenon of a snake swallowing a pig and then seeing that bulge move through the snakes system as it is digested.

 Figure 3

Figure 3 Over this period of sixty years, Florida’s population has transitioned from a “bottom-heavy” one, with consequent demand for schools, parks and recreation systems, and services aimed at younger families, to a “top-heavy” one with very different needs.

Figure 4

 

Figure 4  illustrates that sometime around 2022 Florida is projected to have a greater percentage of its population of retirement age than school age, the first state in the nation and quite possibly one of the first places on the planet to reach this milestone.

The aging of Florida’s population will have profound impacts upon the state, its cities and counties, and the real estate industry that provides housing for these residents.  On the public sector side, the aging of this generation will require expanded medical facilities and place different types of service demands on governments. For the development industry these Baby Boomers will bring different demands to the residential market, with likely increased demand for second homes for the high end of this group, smaller homes for the large that will be downsizing, and more accessible homes for those households with aging or disabled family members. 

Beyond these challenges, though, I also see great opportunity in this transition. As a proponent for “quality growth” (in the form of higher gross densities, the mixing of uses, and a broader set of transportation options), there is evidence that suggests that individuals in older age cohorts are more likely to choose multi-family housing options that are located in transit-served and/or pedestrian-oriented urban areas, with easy accessibility to retail, medical facilities, and other amenities.

Surveys of older homebuyers and renters find exactly this, although it is unclear if the market can and will respond to these preferences.

In my view, the aging of the Baby Boom generation provides a wonderful opportunity to build upon some of the efforts in Florida at developing mixed-use and human-centered (rather than automobile-centered) communities.

It remains to be seen whether the state’s planning rules and processes can capitalize on this opportunity, and whether the development industry realizes that the market is changing due to Baby Boom demographics.

There is an old saying in the field of demography that “demographics are destiny”. While the state economy will continue to ebb and flow, often with remarkable unpredictability, there is certainty in this demographic change. There is no doubt that Florida’s population will be much older in twenty years.

The question is will the state ignore this inexorable change until it is too late, or will this change be embraced as an opportunity for building a more sustainable Florida?
 -Dr. Timothy. S. Chapin is the Associate Professor Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

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