Our favorite housing economist — yes, we have one of those — is Jenny Schuetz, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who publishes a steady stream of insightful and practical articles on topics like why getting a multi-year lease is a good idea and whom you should blame for high housing costs (spoiler alert: greedy people). We caught up with her to ask our burning questions, which have been edited and condensed:
Q: Where should I live?
A: Most people still choose where to live based on where their job is. I encourage moving to a city where you’re not just moving there for one job and one employer. If you turn out to not love your boss or to lose your job, big cities offer some insurance because you can change companies without having to pick up your entire life and break your social networks to move.
Q: What if I can work from anywhere?
A: An awful lot of employers would still like you to be within a couple hours of the metro area. And there’s still strong value to having informational interviews over coffee, and that’s much easier to do where there are lots of companies you’d want to work for. Particularly early in your career, going to a happy hour and getting your name out there still has value.
Q: Where should my partner and I live?
A: You need to be located where both people can find satisfying work. In cities, both members of a couple are able to find jobs, and job switch if needed.
Q: You really like cities, huh?
A: Well, the less you are a sort of “typical” person, the more appeal there is to being in a place that’s big and diverse. Though people aren’t moving to really small places. The trend of moving away from the biggest cities like New York, L.A. and San Francisco has been going on for almost a decade now, and a lot of that is driven by cost. But Denver, Nashville and Austin are still big metro areas, with more than a million people, and you’re still going to find a ton of people who have similar ages and education.
Q: So if I’m looking for a mate, should I go to a city?
A: The evidence is pretty strong that cities play an important role in marriage markets, particularly for people who have more years of formal education. People with graduate degrees marry people with graduate degrees, and if you have a law degree or MBA, the chance of finding someone who’s in the age, gender and education categories that you’re looking for is going to be better in a city where there are lots of people who meet those general qualifications.
Q: Wouldn’t online dating make it easier to live anywhere?
A: It’s still helpful in a relationship to be geographically in the same place as the person you’re dating, which is just easier in a large city. So it’s still going to play a role.
Q: Does this advice apply to LGBTQ people?
A: The research is mostly done on opposite sex couples, but we do know that large cities over time have been more welcoming and friendly for gay people and have more of a dating scene. Cities tend to draw people who are looking for a very specific kind of work or social connections.
Q: Do all these trends apply to friends?
A: The same logic applies. Early in their lives, people are looking for friends and companionship and people with shared interests. There are big populations in which to find friends who do the same kinds of things you do, and a wide diversity of activities — you can’t have a major league baseball team without enough people to fill the stadium, right? So that helps with the sorting process.
Q: Aren’t people fleeing the city because of the pandemic?
A: A lot of the pandemic movement that we’ve seen has been people moving across neighborhoods within the same big urban areas. There has not really been movement away from big cities to towns. Typically, married people are more likely to move to the suburbs and have a house with a yard — and a lot of the people who have been moving away are people who were already in that stage. Younger people and single people have been more likely to live in dense urban neighborhoods where there’s a lot of activity and nightlife, and that’s probably still going to be true.