Kid-free Boston

Exodus of families from city continues unabated

THERE WAS A TIME when couples from the suburbs might hire a babysitter or drop their children at the grandparents in order to splurge on a weekend in Boston. Now, it’s not just Boston hotels that are the scene of such kid-free getaways; that’s increasingly the profile of those making their home across Boston’s neighborhoods. 

A new report from The Boston Foundation puts hard numbers to a trend that’s been apparent to anyone observing changes across the city’s landscape. Boston’s population of school-age children has dropped by about 10,000 since 2000, a period in which the city added 100,000 new residents, many of them more affluent educated whites drawn to the mix of high-paying jobs and vibrant urban living. 

The result: Lots more places to grab a pricey latte, while neighborhoods are being drained of the kids that once formed their lifeblood and defined the scenes and sounds of local streets. 

There are barely half as many kids in Boston as there were in 1950, and those that remain tend to be poor and black or Latino. There are now only about 75,000 children aged 5 to 17 in a city of nearly 700,000 residents. 

“The demographics highlight what has almost become two separate cities within our city,” Paul Grogan, CEO of The Boston Foundation, told the Globe.

There are lots of reasons for the exodus, but chief among them appears to be the skyrocketing cost of housing in the city along with continued lack of confidence in the city’s public school system. 

To borrow from the sommelier-speak of the city’s glut of high-end restaurants, the new demographics report pairs well with another story in today’s Globe, one that has become so common that it no longer shocks the senses. It reports that developers are planning a 19-story apartment building in Bay Village with two-bedroom apartments that will fetch rents of $7,000 a month. (Before overly despairing of the price tag, factor in that it will include super fast Wi-Fi and weekly cleaning service!) 

City officials have said the flood of luxury housing being built in Boston will relieve pressure on the city’s existing housing stock. While that supply-and-demand theory may hold true at the regional level, it’s hard to see, for example, how the massive development boom in the Forest Hills area of Jamaica Plain isn’t simply pushing rents higher in nearby three-deckers, as the area becomes increasingly desirable. 

Meanwhile, the continued struggle of the city’s school systems, where several dozen schools have been bumping along the bottom of state achievement results for years, is doing little to convince better-off families who enjoy the option of suburban life that Boston is the place to raise their children. 

On the heels of this month’s State of the City speech, where Mayor Marty Walsh pointed to all the good news in Boston, it’s a sobering reality check. 

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Boston is hardly alone in witnessing the hollowing out of what was once the bedrock demographic of US cities — the Globe says children now make-up an even smaller share of the population in other booming coastal cities like San Francisco and Seattle. 

But that’s small comfort for those wishing for a Boston that’s more than just a city of have-a-lots and have-nots.