Attention mayors, governors, and economic development gurus: Your plans to lure young college graduates to your cities with downtown lofts and local start-ups are not working. Instead, millennials are opting to move from their college towns to a much smaller cluster of cities than they did 30 years ago—places such as Boulder, Colo., Washington D.C; Cambridge, Mass.; or San Jose, Calif.
In 1970, 20 metro areas around the country claimed 24.6 percent of people with bachelor's degrees who chose to live in cities, says Alan Berube, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. By 2010, that share had jumped to 43.4 percent.
This means that almost half of college graduates in the nation's biggest cities are clustered in just 20 places. That's a huge concentration of the well-educated workforce: people who companies want to hire, who tend to outearn those with high-school degrees, and whose earning can significantly add to a city's tax base.
Why should we care about this trend in where urban-loving college grads prefer to live? Well, this and other economic data show that the country is increasingly divided, not just economically between the rich and the poor but also geographically along economic lines.
The "gilded cities," such as New York and Cambridge, have bright futures because they're attracting the country's most educated workforce. (The most popular cities for college grads tend to either be considered tech hubs or are home to robust universities.) Meanwhile, place such as like Phoenix or Oklahoma City may eventually fall further behind. It's literally a tale of two cities—and the different directions they're headed in—as the best-educated urban dwellers in the U.S. pick their handful of spots to call home.
Share of the population with a bachelor's degree or higher and change in share between 1980 and 2010 by metro area population
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Source: Brookings Institution analysis of Census Bureau data