Demographic Inversion and the Church
The New Republic has an excellent piece on the future gentrification of U.S. cities. Gentrification is a socioeconomic phenomenon in which people of more affluence move into an area that is typified as less affluent. This movement is usually associated with people who move from the suburbs into inner-city areas.
Alan Ehrenhalt, the author of the article, dubs this shift “demographic inversion.” A snippet from his article sums up the point:
…the current inversion is less the result of middle-aged people changing their minds than of young adults expressing different values, habits, and living preferences than their parents. The demographic changes that have taken place in America over the past generation–the increased propensity to remain single, the rise of cohabitation, the much later age at first marriage for those who do marry, the smaller size of families for those who have children, and, at the other end, the rapidly growing number of healthy and active adults in their sixties, seventies, and eighties–have combined virtually all of the significant elements that make a demographic inversion not only possible but likely. We are moving toward a society in which millions of people with substantial earning power or ample savings can live wherever they want, and many will choose central cities over distant suburbs. As they do this, others will find themselves forced to live in less desirable places–now defined as those further from the center of the metropolis. And, as this happens, suburbs that never dreamed of being entry points for immigrants will have to cope with new realities.
This type of talk has been quite popular since rising gas prices monster-trucked the SUV industry. But it’s not so far-fetched in my mind. Even my wife (a country girl) has told me she would rather live close to everything with gas prices so high. But if it occurs, the timeline for this type of demographic shift on a national scale is probably decades-long. And some data do not fully support the notion of large-scale demographic inversion.
Regardless, revitalized downtowns across the U.S. point to some level of gentrification. And there are a few church leaders who are focusing on all people – newcomers to downtown and those families who have lived there for generations. But this possible demographic shift is not discussed enough among church leaders. Even if it occurs on a small-scale, there is a great opportunity for churches on both sides to reach a new group of people – those who are moving into the city, and those who are moving out to the suburbs. My hope is that churches will have open doors, minds, and hearts for what could be great unity in diversity.