Seattle and the great sorting of our households

New data about our region show where the families and singles are concentrating, how gentrification is affecting Seattle, and what kind of households are in dense, job-rich areas.

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The newly landmarked Bloss House in West Seattle

New data about our region show where the families and singles are concentrating, how gentrification is affecting Seattle, and what kind of households are in dense, job-rich areas.

The belated release for Washington of data on households and age at detailed geographic levels (even the block) lets us get a sense of the widespread differences at a local level, especially for the city of Seattle and other larger places.  For this report I look at types of households, and also at shares renting or owning.  These are part of the 100 percent census count and reasonably accurate. 

The reported household types are husband-wife families with children and without dependent children (the latter are mostly empty-nesters), single-parent families, single persons, and unmarried partners/roommates.  Patterns for greater Seattle are not greatly changed from ten years ago, which is perhaps surprising to some but are also typical of contemporary larger metropolitan areas.

Start with husband-wife families with children. Their share of all households shows the expected pattern. By far the highest (over 30 percent of households, obviously a higher share of the population) are in far suburban and exurban tracts, such as Sammamish, Silver Firs, part of South Hill, and Indian reservations. Moderate shares  (over 25 percent) cover much of suburban and exurban Seattle and still-growing rural areas, and even a few more affluent areas of Seattle (with rejuvenating Laurelhurst over 30 percent).  Low shares, under 20 percent, are typical of Seattle and Tacoma, rural and small town retirement areas, as in Jefferson and Island counties, and in industrial areas. Shares fell slightly in areas with the most new high-density development, as in the SR99 corridor.

Shares of husband-wife families without children are rather high, as many are folks from the baby boom era whose children have left home. Shares are very high in amenity retirement areas, Jefferson, Island, Mason, and in a few exurban to rural areas in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.  Shares are moderate to low in Seattle, Tacoma, and industrial areas. Shares increased moderately for many suburbs, owing to aging in place.

The distribution of single-parent families is rather different, as it is the only household type associated with economic status. The majority of single-parent families are poor, and minority shares are high.  High shares predominate in the majority-minority areas from South Seattle through south King County, and through much of Tacoma and Pierce County. The most surprising area of high shares is in southeastern Pierce County. It is actually almost amazing, and a tribute to gentrification, that the lowest shares are in the high tech, highly educated corridor from downtown and central Seattle, and the UW-dominated parts of  the city, through Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond and beyond.  But the patterns are relatively unchanged from 2000.

The share of singles, 28 percent of households in the four counties, and 11 percent of the population, is somewhat higher than in most metropolitan areas, as it has been historically for over a century. Shares are exceptionally high in central Seattle, often over 80 percent, in south Everett, south Tacoma, and in parts of Kent, Auburn, Renton, and Bremerton — generally in areas with many jobs, and high shares of rental apartments and condominiums.  Shares are moderately high in some suburban areas, again places with high shares of denser housing, as in Kirkland,  Bellevue, Renton, Redmond, Issaquah, and Bothell. Shares are low only in single-family-home-dominated suburban, exurban, and rural areas. Overall shares increased slightly in the densest areas of both Seattle and suburban cities.

The share of unmarried partner households is distinct and not surprising — practically coinciding with the city of Seattle, and therefore more prevalent north of the Ship Canal than most probably expect.  Male-female partnerships are more spread out and more to the north, while same-sex partnerships are more rooted to the urban core.

Finally, the share of households renting does suggest the kind of housing change that has occurred over the last decade.   While overall, renting shares are very high over about half of Seattle (and Tacoma), this share is probably lower than many might expect, and while the zones of very low rental shares dominate the single-family far suburbs, exurbs, and rural areas, as expected, there are a number of high concentrations of rental apartments outside Seattle, as in the Green River valley (Renton through Auburn), in parts of Bellevue and Redmond, along much of the SR 99 corridor, and even in some otherwise almost rural areas such as southeast Pierce. Rental shares changed relatively little, in part because of increased ownership of condominiums, despite changes in the housing stock.

Looking at subregions, we find in Seattle the general pattern of a small decline in shares of families with children, with a balancing increase in families without children. These latter increases seem to be related to gentrification, most obviously in the historic CD and Southeast Seattle, but also in some northern neighborhoods. Shares of singles were up only modestly, mainly in the core areas north and south of the Ship canal.

Shoreline experienced increased shares of husband-wife families with children, together with a slight decrease in single and renter shares. The Bothell-Kirkland region had a similar small increase in families. But greater Bellevue, through Renton and into Highline, had small declines in husband-wife families with children, balanced by an increase in families without children.  But farther south, the Kent, Federal Way, and Auburn areas had small increases in families with children, and little change in shares of singles.  The Redmond area was quite mixed, depending on local housing development differences. Some tracts gained in family shares, others in shares of singles and of renters.

Kitsap County overall had moderate increases in shares of families with children. Tacoma (the city) showed little change in pattern, but far suburban areas, with a lot of new housing, showed gains in shares of families with children/ Older suburbs like Lakewood or University Place had higher shares of families without children.  The story for Everett was again very mixed, depending on local housing changes. Shares of families with children increased in southern Snohomish County, more in the Silver Firs, Mill Creek-to-Bothell corridor than to the west. The Marysville area, and beyond to the north, had significant gains in shares of families with children.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Dick Morrill

Dick Morrill is emeritus professor of geography at the University of Washington and an expert in urban demography.