Six southern US metro areas: part 1 – age and family structure

While it’s snowing here in DC, frigid in the northern US, and Florida is full of snowbirds,  there exists a theoretical climate happy medium in the southern Appalachian region of the US. This magical area gets four seasons, has mountains nearby for hiking and clearing out unproductive thought patterns, and yet doesn’t get super cold. But before I decide to move to this region, I should probably know more about it. Fortunately, the Current Population Survey (CPS) can help.


What follows is the first in a series of blog posts about six mid-sized metro areas in the region that surrounds the southern portion of the Appalachian mountains. The six areas are: the Chattanooga-Cleveland-Dalton, TN-GA combined statistical area, the Greenville-Anderson-Spartanburg, SC combined statistical area, the Asheville, NC center-based statistical area, the Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol, TN-VA combined statistical area, the Huntsville, AL center-based statistical area, and the Knoxville, TN center-based statistical area.


These mid-sized areas are likely influenced by three major cities nearby: Charlotte, Nashville, and Atlanta, however, I’m going to focus only on the mid-sized cities, which perhaps get less analytical attention.

The first post in the series will cover population, age composition, and family structure for people age 22 to 32. Specifically, I’ll look at whether people in the age 22-32 group are married and whether they have kids. Future blog posts will cover education, industry composition and occupation composition, labor market status (employed, unemployed, why not in the labor force), hours worked and wages, and finally, union membership and professional certification.

To get a sufficient sample size, data listed in the post today are drawn from 24 months of aggregated CPS microdata, covering 2017 and 2018. The wage discussion will likely use three or four years of data (since wage questions are asked to 1/4 of the CPS sample).


CPS-based-estimates of population for the six areas are as follows:

  • Chattanooga-Cleveland-Dalton, TN-GA: 802,000
  • Greenville-Anderson-Spartanburg, SC: 1,270,000
  • Asheville, NC: 463,000
  • Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol, TN-VA: 505,000
  • Huntsville, AL: 478,000
  • Knoxville, TN: 853,000

Age composition of population

My first question is what share of people living in these areas are children (under 16) and what share are retirement age (over 64).

The age 15 or less share of the population in the six areas is at or below the US average. The Greenville area has the highest share of children (20.7% of the population) and is the only area with an above-average share of children. The Asheville area has the lowest (15.1%).


The age 65 or older share of the population varies between the six areas, with four of the six areas having an above average retirement-age share. The highest age 65 or older share of the population is in Asheville (22.1%) and the lowest is in Huntsville (11.3%).


Marriage rates among those age 22-32

Next, I’m curious about family structure among those age 22-32. Student debt and expensive housing, among other things, have the result of reducing marriage rates for young people. I’m curious how young people’s marriage rates compare between these six areas and the nation as a whole.

Five of the six areas (Asheville is the exception again) have above national average rates of marriage for those age 22-32. The highest age 22-32 marriage rate is in the Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol area, where 40.8% of the age group is married. In Asheville, 31% of the age group is married, just under the 32% nationwide rate. Marriage rates are also well-above average in Knoxville (39.7%) and in the Chattanooga area (39.4%).

My suspicion here is that student debt levels and housing prices are below national averages for much of this region, which makes starting a new household easier.


Share of 22-32 year olds with kids

Finally, I want to look at how many 22-32 year olds have kids in each of the areas, compared to the US as a whole.

The share of 22-32 year olds with kids varies among the six areas. Like marriage rates, the Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol has the highest share of 22-32 year olds with at least one kid, at 41.9%, compared to 29.3% nationwide. Knoxville (34.7%) and the Chattanooga area (34.1%) also have above average parenthood rates. Huntsville (22.9%) and Asheville (24.7%) have a low rate of parenthood among 22-32 year olds.


The share of 22-32 year olds with two or more kids is above the national average for five of the six areas. Chattanooga (20.1%), Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol (20%) and the Greenville area (19.3%) are well above the national average of 16.2%. Interestingly, Huntsville is far below the national average, with 8.7% of the age group with two or more kids. The Huntsville area has a large military population, but, importantly, people in the Armed Forces are already excluded from this dataset, so that can’t be the explanation.


The next blog post in the series will look at education and industries and occupations.

The jupyter notebook used in this analysis is available here.

5 thoughts on “Six southern US metro areas: part 1 – age and family structure”

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