Last month the NY Times reported that San Francisco “has the lowest percentage of children of any of the largest 100 cities in America” (Fuller). The nationwide average of households with children is 29.4%. San Francisco’s average is 18%. On the other side of the country, New York city, another of America’s most expensive cities, has an average of 21%. It is often said that San Francisco has nearly the same number of dogs as it does children. This post looks at some of the reasons for San Francisco’s lack of children, why it matters, and how it can be fixed.

The Decline of Children

The biggest reason that analysts cite for the lack of children is expensive housing. However, there are a number of other reasons that play a role. Most analysts believe that the decline of children began in the 1970s with white flight. Today San Francisco’s public school system isn’t as attractive as suburban options. Plus, San Francisco has historically been home to a large population of gay men and women who are mostly childless.

San Francisco is an expensive city. When a couple is ready to start a family, they are usually ready to find more affordable housing as well. Many people who move to the city for tech jobs are young and prepared to sacrifice family for long hours and career advancement. Sacrificing family time for career advancement isn’t a new trend. However, as jobs become more skill-specific and demanding the trend will only continue.

Initiatives for Children

In San Francisco employers are required to give employees six weeks of paid leave to new parents. The city is the first in the nation with this type of requirement. Additionally, the city’s Recreation and Parks Department has invested millions of dollars in improving its parks. Finally, the city has made more summer programs available for children.

Family-Friendly Housing

Family-friendly housing has two characteristics: it’s affordable and spacious enough for families. Unfortunately, more spacious houses are also more expensive. The San Francisco Planning Department released a report in January which includes some ideas on how to make housing more attractive to families. Shared bathrooms, smaller bedrooms that don’t increase the square footage of the house, and adding guest suites in the building instead of spare bedrooms are just three of the ideas that the planning department is considering. You can read the entire report at this link.

Creating A City For All

Children and families add to the diversity of a city. Family-friendly housing means that more people will stay in the city and contribute to its culture. Going forward the San Francisco Planning Department will continue to explore housing options for families. The department also seeks to engage with relevant stakeholders like policy makers, developers, and current residents.