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Age, life course and generations in gentrification processes



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Age, life course and generations in gentrification processes (book chapter)
Cody Hochstenbach and Willem R Boterman
Centre for Urban Studies, University of Amsterdam
An edited version of this manuscript is accepted for publication in The Handbook of Gentrification
Age is often only implicitly acknowledged in gentrification processes. This contribution, however,
places age centre stage to understand how the process has expanded into a major force of urban
change. We specifically forward the importance of key transitions in the life course. While
gentrification is generally associated with relatively young households, we specifically highlight the
growing importance of middle-class families and ageing empty nesters and retirees, arguing for the
emergence of gentrification as a multi-generational process with younger generations following in
the footsteps of older ones. Inequalities between and within age groups, often related to housing
restructuring, are also foregrounded. For young people it has become increasingly difficult to enter
homeownership or secure rental housing. In contrast, an ageing generation has often been highly
successful in accumulating housing wealth, amplifying their role in driving gentrification processes. A
political economy surrounding and pushing these different age-specific forms of gentrification has
emerged. The different age-specific forms of gentrification are likely to contribute to different forms
of displacement hurting different residential groups.
Gentrification is generally defined as the class-based transformation of urban spaces (Lees et al.
2008). Although class is indeed central, gentrification is also the spatial manifestation of
demographic processes embedded in a wider political economy. Gentrification is often understood
as part of a specific life stage during young adulthood; a temporary phenomenon in the time-space
trajectories of particular middle-class fractions (Bridge 2003). Although age is often implicitly
discussed in gentrification studies, we argue that it should be treated as a key dimension to
understand gentrification and the inequalities it brings about. Acknowledging the central role of
demographic processes further opens up the debate about the planetary scope of gentrification and
its specific geographical manifestations (Lees 2012), which are not just rooted in local configurations
of class, but also in a wider national and local political economy around life course. It seems that the
globalisation of gentrification as a primarily urban phenomenon and theoretical concept is mostly
concerned with the ways in which global capital now sweeps across all corners of the planet.
Gentrification is hence understood as a planetary strategy for capital accumulation and is mainly
about class power (Lees et al. 2015). To some extent this is at odds with the complex ways in which
gentrification is produced and practiced in light of the specific historical trajectories of urbanisation
of Western cities. Gentrification in post-war America and Europe cannot be seen in isolation from
suburbanisation and abandonment of inner cities; however nor can it been seen separate from
demographic transitions, the boom in single households and female emancipation.
In this contribution we place age centre stage, and aim to unravel how it plays a role in different
forms of gentrification. We do so by providing an overview of recent gentrification studies
addressing age dimensions, drawing primarily on work from the ‘Global North. To investigate how
age is implicated in gentrification processes, we focus on the concepts of life course and generation.
In the residential domain life-course transitions alter preferences and trigger residential moves, and
are crucial moments that generate the conditions for (middle-class) households to move into or out
of a gentrifying neighbourhood (Bridge 2003; Boterman & Bridge 2015). But they simultaneously
confront low-income households with housing unaffordability, inaccessibility and displacement,
foregrounding inequalities. Life-course transitions are not independent events: previous
experiences, preferences and predilections accumulated during previous life stages and transitions,
influence how households negotiate subsequent transitions. Moreover, life course transitions bear
some universality, but the specific ways in which life courses unfold and impact upon residential
practices is highly contingent in space. Life course transitions such as leaving the parental home are
already differentiated between relatively similar western welfare states (compare for instance
Netherlands and Sweden). The variation between and across countries of the Global North and
Global South in terms of how the meaning of age and life courses are socially constructed is
immense. Nonetheless, the very meaning of life course transitions and the way it impacts residential
practices is not stable over time.
In this regard it is also imperative to consider the role of generations: baby boomers were crucial in
driving gentrification as a counter process in many countries of the Global North in 1960s and 1970s
(Ley 1996). We argue that the ageing of this ‘first generation’ of gentrifiers contributes to new forms
of gentrification, but also impacts subsequent generations. While it may seem very specific to this
generation in Western countries, in many countries of the Global South, China being a prime
example, the emergence of gentrification processes at unprecedented intensities is also linked to
the rapid growth of the middle classes in general. Hence, a majority of the current gentrifiers in such
contexts are alsofirst generation. This raises important questions about how we should understand
the emergence of gentrification in ever more contexts in the light of intersections of life course,
generation and class.
In this contribution we highlight how multiple age groups are involved in different forms of
gentrification. This is, we argue, necessary to understand the increasingly widespread scale at which
gentrification and displacement operate. The remainder of this contribution will zoom in on the role
of three different age groups in broader gentrification processes: (1) young people, (2) families, and
(3) ageing groups. We specifically focus on the crucial role life-course transitions, and the cumulative
experiences and residential trajectories of particular generations. Finally, we consider the political
economy of life course.
Young people and gentrification
Gentrification is most prominently associated with the life-course and residential trajectories of
young people. These typically represent formative years in young people’s transition towards full
independence, and constitute a transitory period prior to settling down. During these years many
young people flock to inner-city environments where they can benefit from the close proximity of
higher-education institutions, opportunity-rich labour markets, as well as amenities that cater to
their specific tastes (Ley 1996, 2003; Smith & Holt 2007). In the 1960s expanding university
participation was important for specific fractions of the baby-boom generation to develop a more
urban residential orientation. This was a counter process to more dominant suburbanization
processes in Western societies though. To opt for an affordable inner-city environment was a way to
distinguish oneself from more other middle-class fractions and to reject the ‘suburban’ nuclear
family (Wilson 1991; May 1996). The choice for relatively cheap inner-city living arrangements had a
clear financial rationale too, given the generally limited economic resources at disposal (Rose 1984;
Caulfield 1994).
The typical life-course and residential trajectories of young people have changed over time. Higher
education has continued to expand, making the city an ever more common destination for young
people. Furthermore, young people increasingly extend a transitory life phase as they postpone
settling down, marriage, and child birth. Labour-market flexibilization and growing insecurities also
push young people towards more flexible life arrangements. This creates a prolonged transitory life
course stage, often with a distinct urban orientation (Buzar et al. 2005; Van Criekingen & Decroly
2003). Consequently, gentrification no longer constitutes a rebellious counter process, but has
become the default option in the residential and life-course trajectories of young middle-class
households. It is part of the rite of these young middle-class people towards adulthood.
At the same time more and more inner-city neighbourhoods grow unaffordable due to
gentrification, forcing young people to make ever-sharper trade-offs regarding location: progressing
gentrification may have young people ‘looking for the next best thing’ and settle in those
neighbourhoods that have so far remained largely untouched by gentrification, pushing the process
frontier (Kerstein 1990; Ley 2003).
Changing housing-market position
Given the crucial role ascribed to young people in gentrification, young people’s housing position
and opportunities will influence the form and intensity of gentrification processes. Since the global
financial crisis and accompanying housing-market downturn, homeownership rates among younger
age groups have fallen in virtually all European countries (Lennartz et al. 2016), as well as in a host of
other contexts including North America, Australia and East Asia (Mykyta 2012; Stebbing & Spies-
Butcher 2016; Forrest & Hirayama 2009). This trend should be considered part of long-term housing-
and labour-market restructuring (Ronald 2008; Forrest & Hirayama 2015). Consequently, in many
contexts, but most notably the UK, the rise of a “generation rent” has been identified: unable to buy
a home, increasing numbers of young people have to rely on private-rental accommodation (McKee
2012; Clapham et al. 2014; Kemp 2015). More generally, young people find it increasingly difficult to
acquire secure housing either owned or rented at all, resulting in the formation of capricious and
chaotic housing pathways. Such pathways are marked by sequences of insecure, temporary and
often semi-illegal living arrangements (Hochstenbach & Boterman 2015; Ford et al. 2002; Clapham
et al. 2014). The overall destabilization of housing pathways must certainly not be considered solely
the consequence of growing housing constraints and increasing labour-market insecurities. As
remarked above, they are also part of a shift towards more flexible lifestyles and prolonged urban
living prior to settling (Buzar et al. 2005; Mulder & Manting 1994; Van Criekingen & Decroly 2003).
So how does this influence gentrification processes? Despite an increasingly insecure housing
position, many young people retain a residential focus on the increasingly expensive cities (Moos
2016). Investors increasingly recognize the opportunity to serve those young upwardly-mobile
households unable to buy. This contributes to a revival of private rent (Ronald & Kadi 2016), as well
as the emergence of new forms of private-rental gentrification (Paccoud 2017). While rental
gentrification is certainly not a new phenomenon young, rather poor but upwardly-mobile
‘marginal gentrifiers’ are often associated with renting (Rose 1984; Van Criekingen & Decroly 2003)
in more recent times it has become increasingly integrated into more speculative modes of urban
development (Paccoud 2017; Fields & Uffer 2016). Effectively rental gentrification is likely to
contribute to exclusionary displacement (Marcuse 1986) with particular age and class dynamics (Van
Criekingen 2010): young, mostly middle-class residents may be able and willing to negotiate housing
constraints and overcome high rents by sharing an apartment, excluding lower-income family
households from renting. Furthermore, high turnover rates allow landlords to frequently raise rents
(ibid.). Finally, since security of tenure is often relatively low in private rent, low-income tenants may
also be most likely to suffer direct displacement for example due to steep rent increases or landlord
intimidation (Paccoud 2017). Yet, as young upwardly-mobile people may be inclined to accept
precarious living arrangements themselves, they become more prone to displacement as well (cf.
Hochstenbach & Boterman 2015).
Intergenerational support
As constraints and insecurities on the housing market grow, young people are increasingly
dependent on the parental home. Unable to find housing growing numbers of young people prolong
their stay in it (Lennartz et al. 2016), or use it as a safety net to deal with the unexpected housing
events (Sage et al. 2013). Moreover, parental support also shapes housing outcomes, for example
through financial transfers to buy a home or pay rent (Helderman & Mulder 2007; Öst 2012) and
such forms of intergenerational support have become more crucial in helping young people on their
way as generational divides themselves are growing (McKee 2012; Forrest & Hirayama 2015). This
exacerbates the intergenerational transmission of inequalities, deepening socio-economic dividing
lines based on family background.
Intergenerational relations and parental support factor into processes of gentrification in both direct
and indirect ways. In a study of Amsterdam, we have shown that parental wealth is a key predictor
of young people’s ability and propensity to move to up-market gentrification neighbourhoods
(Hochstenbach & Boterman 2017). This directly contributes to gentrification processes as it allows
young adults to tap into additional sources of wealth, driving up house prices in different tenures.
Furthermore, new flows of capital are established. Parents, often living in suburban or rural
locations, mobilize their wealth and invest it in urban neighbourhoods for their children. In a way
this means that capital accumulated elsewhere ‘urbanizes’ (cf. Harvey 1985), flowing into gentrifying
neighbourhoods. Such forms of parental support reflect intergenerational solidarity and social
reproduction strategies, but are also often strategic investments to facilitate further wealth
accumulation. Parents may particularly invest in gentrifying neighbourhoods because these are the
sites where windfall gains may be expected. These investment strategies may have an interesting
multigenerational dimension to them as parental financial capital is combined with their offspring’s
specific knowledge of the local housing market (i.e. where to invest).
Indirectly, parents do not only provide financial support, but also transfer social and cultural capital
to get ahead on the housing market. Young people acquire preferences from their parents, which in
turn inform residential location preferences and decisions (Hochstenbach & Boterman 2015). As the
‘gentrifiers’ of previous waves have aged and become parents, they are likely to pass on the
preferences and tastes they acquired during these formative years in the life course, including a
‘gentrification aesthetic’. They may expect their children to follow in their footsteps by moving to
the city notably to follow education (Rye 2011). Gentrification has therefore become a process
that spans multiple generations. It figures ever more in the residential biographies of both the old
and young, and it is reproduced across generations. This stands in stark contrast to early waves of
gentrification, when the process was the outcome of young people rejecting parental household and
residential arrangements (Ley 1996).
Apprentice gentrifiers and studentification
Education plays a key role in the expansion of gentrification. Due to the massive expansion of higher-
education participation across contexts, growing numbers of young people gravitate towards urban
areas to study (Smith & Sage 2014; also Fielding 1992). As a consequence, the early life-course
trajectories of young people play out in urban settings increasingly often (Rérat 2012). During
studenthood young people develop certain residential and social preferences, and internalize a
specific way of life. Furthermore, studenthood often constitutes a gradual and “sheltered” transition
out of the parental home towards independence, as middle-class parents continue to lend support
in various ways (Rugg et al. 2004). It can therefore be considered a crucial phase in the production
and reproduction of a middle-class habitus (Chatterton 1999; Smith & Holt 2007: 150). Not only are
these students on a trajectory to the middle classes, but the urban dimensions of student life are
also likely to forge preferences for urban living. In addition, students tend to live among peers
shaping future inclinations to live among likeminded people, an important dimension of
gentrification processes in general (Smith & Holt 2007). Smith and Holt (2007) have therefore
importantly argued that students may be considered ‘apprentice gentrifiers’: their current and
future residential preferences for specific urban areas are shaped by their spell as a student in the
Studenthood thus figures prominently in gentrification processes, because it represents a necessary
precondition for the production of future gentrifiers (Smith 2005). Apart from this longer-term
impact, students play a more direct role in gentrification processes in general (Ley 2003) as well as in
the more specific process of studentification (Smith 2005; Hubbard 2008; He 2015). In its direct form
studentification denotes the process where students concentrate in certain neighbourhoods, such as
purpose-build student campuses but also existing neighbourhoods often located close to university,
the city centre, and amenities. Particularly in the latter case, studentification is likely to have notable
repercussions. High residential turnover rates among students put pressure on local social cohesion.
In addition, students’ specific lifestyle, a neglect of public space, and student-specific businesses
opening all impact how longer-term non-student residents experience the neighbourhood.
Therefore, in those neighbourhoods where studentification progresses, displacement pressures can
take on rather extreme forms.
Families and gentrification
Gentrification as temporary life phase
The increase in higher-education participation is one of the main explanations for first wave
gentrification as described above. The large numbers of young adults flocking to the city for study or
work were to a large extent the result of fundamental demographic changes. The second
demographic transition entailed the postponement of marriage and child birth, thereby creating
basically a new life course stage in which young adults, especially women, had the opportunity to
live independent lives after leaving the parental home and before settling down. These new
generations of young adults fundamentally challenged traditional norms around many things, not in
the least around parenthood, marriage and living alone or unmarried cohabitation. Many of them
were first generation gentrifiers, members of a newly emerging middle class, who are argued to
have developed an urban habitus, manifesting itself in a particular urban life style revolving around
consumption and new creative and service industries (Ley 1996; Butler & Robson 2003). This urban
habitus of the new middle classes, however, is eventually challenged by events in the life course.
Various scholars have shown that the urban lifestyle of new middle-class households is pressured by
the birth of children (Bridge 2006). Entering the field of parenthood unsettles the relationship
between habitus and field and raises the stakes in social reproduction (Boterman & Bridge 2015).
Demographic literature has established that birth of children triggers a reordering of priorities in
terms of size, cost and location of housing (Rossi 1955). Most middle-class families have a
preference for owning a larger home, with a garden in a child friendly environment (Mulder 2006;
Baldassare 1992). A large body of literature demonstrates that access to good schools is central for
understanding the residential preferences of the middle classes as they enter into family formation
(Butler & Hamnett 2007; Benson et al. 2015). In a range of different urban contexts moving to the
catchment area or school district of a high-quality primary or secondary school is argued to be an
absolute priority (Wu et al. 2016; Butler & Van Zanten 2007; Lareau & Goyette 2014; Boterman,
2013). As a result of the reordering of priorities, out of which housing and schooling emerge as key
issues, many gentrifiers move out of the city when they have children. While oftentimes these
residential trajectories lead to ‘traditional’ suburban locations (Bridge, 2006; Boterman 2012b;
Gamsu, 2015), gentrifiers may also explicitly move to rural locations for reasons including good
schools, a distinctive rural idyll, healthy environment, and sense of community (Phillips 1993, 2004;
Smith & Higley, 2012). For most middle class households an urban lifestyle only fits a specific stage
of their life course and is hence a temporary phenomenon.
Family gentrifiers
However, a number of studies have demonstrated that considerable numbers of middle-class
households continue to be urban when they have children (Karsten 2007; Boterman 2012a;
Goodsell, 2013). This group, which has been referred to as family gentrifiers (Boterman et al. 2010;
Karsten 2003; Lilius 2014) seems to be on the rise in various urban contexts, including New York,
Amsterdam and Berlin. Karsten (2003) argues that family gentrifiers stay in the city for three main
reasons: they have invested heavily in localized social networks; the city provides them with a
distinctive identity; and the city offers a time-space contexts that allows particularly mothers to
manage their work-care balance. More generally, gentrification has been associated with increasing
participation in female employment and consequently also the rise in dual earners which has
provided these households with an edge on the housing market (Warde 1991; Rose 1989; Hamnett,
2003). It is repeatedly argued that higher-educated women are the key agents of gentrification
(Butler & Hamnett 1994). Family gentrification should therefore also be seen in the context of the
intersection of class and gender (Bondi 1999; Van den Berg 2013; Boterman & Bridge 2015). Yet,
although it has been convincingly explained why some middle-class families stay in the city and how
they manage their every-day lives in respect to their consumption behaviour, their social networks,
and their working careers (Brun & Fagnani 1994; Karsten 2003; 2007), few studies have investigated
why and how urban family gentrifiers are different from gentrifiers that move out of the city. In
other words: why does having children affect some middle-class households differently than others?
A longitudinal study with middle-class parents in Amsterdam demonstrates that specific fractions of
the middle classes have specific residential trajectories when they have children. Depending on the
sum and orientation of their economic social and cultural capital, some are more likely to stay in the
inner city than other class fractions (Boterman 2012a). Specifically, relatively affluent households,
with extensive social networks in the city, often working in the public sector, tertiary education, law,
and creative industries, tend to stay in inner-city districts and continue to be gentrifiers after having
children. They are able to combine the advantages in inner-city living while making only few
compromises in terms of housing and - due to the proximity of good public schools - education. This
group of high-paid dual earner families are both literally and figuratively the agents of more mature
forms of gentrification. Households with similar cultural orientations who also rely on local social
networks, but who command fewer financial resources, also tend to stay but have to make bigger
compromises in terms of their housing situation. Lacking the economic capital to buy spacious
housing in gentrified neighbourhoods they make sharper trade-offs between location and aspects of
the home. They may buy or rent property in relatively cheap areas thereby indirectly or directly
displacing other families from a non-native or low-class background.
Finally, middle-class households that have the economic capital to buy property in gentrified parts of
the city, but belong to other fractions of the middle classes, working for instance in business and
finance, are more likely to suburbanize. These parents, often ‘first generation middle class’ (Reay et
al. 2011), have other ideas about where to bring up children. They tend to stress the importance of
homogeneity, space in and outside of the home, and also have more traditional divisions of labour
between men and women (Boterman & Bridge 2015). Also the issue of school choice seems to play a
more central role (see also Reay et al. 2011). In this respect they appear more similar in their
residential trajectories to the traditional middle classes who massively suburbanized. It should be
stressed that non-urban trajectories are highly differentiated and remain the most common form of
residential mobility in the field of parenthood. Furthermore, these middle-class and high-earning
families moving out of the city may drive gentrification processes in specific distinct rural locations
(Phillips 1993).
The context of family gentrification
The way in which the residential trajectories of gentrifiers develop after the birth of children,
however, appears to be highly influenced by the spatial and institutional context. The geography of
gentrification for families is even more contingent on the spatial and institutional context of specific
localities (Lees 2012). Bridge (2003, 2006) for instance argues that gentrification by families may not
be ‘sustainable’ in the context of a provincial city (Bristol) because of the limited stock of
‘gentrifiable’ housing and good schools. In London, the wide range of residential environments and
supply of historical homes, which are connected to the city via the extensive underground and train
system, as well as the supply of good schools (education), enables middle classes to maintain
working careers and also their life style via the consumption of urban amenities, such as restaurants,
delis and theatres (Butler & Robson 2003). In London, the scale of the metropolitan area thus allows
for a greater continuity of residential trajectories of gentrifiers.
In cities, such as London and New York, where gentrification is ubiquitous and even upper middle
classes are displaced from super-gentrified areas (Lees 2003; Atkinson 2016), housing for middle-
class families is highly unaffordable. The huge boom in London’s real estate makes it almost
impossible to stay in gentrified areas when a family needs to move for more space, although some
are able to create more space via extensions or digging out the basement. In Northwest European
cities where housing is also expensive but the real-estate market is less affected by global capital,
upper middle-class families are often among the most well-endowed households, particularly
middle-class professionals with two substantial incomes. In those contexts, dual-income families
may be among the most powerful displacers, particularly of non-native families and ageing working
This points to an interesting dynamic around age and class: family gentrification occurs often in
areas where larger dwellings are inhabited by working-class households from which the children
have usually moved out. Older working-class ‘empty nesters’ are replaced, and sometimes displaced,
by a new generation of middle-class families. Although class is also central to this process,
succession of one generation by the next is also a crucial dimension in its own right. As first-
generation gentrifiers are now also becoming empty nesters and enter retirement, new questions
around gentrification, generation, and life course emerge.
Gentrification and older generations
In a similar vein as leaving the parental home and entering the field of parenthood signify important
transitions in the life course, in later life two transitions may be particularly associated with specific
forms of gentrification: empty nesting and retirement. Empty nesting implies that the household
becomes smaller, and generally entails a reduction of responsibilities for others, both emotionally
and financially although parental support to adult children is on the rise in many contexts (see
McKee 2012; Forrest & Hirayama 2015; Albertini et al. 2007). This stage is in many western contexts
associated with a greater relative wealth, particularly when the household moves into smaller and
cheaper housing (Painter & Lee 2009) or has paid off the mortgage debt. While empty nesting in
principle decouples older households’ attachment to family neighbourhoods and spacious homes,
continuing employment generally means these households remain attached to the same region.
In a second stage of ageing, retirement may (but necessarily so) reduce the disposable income of
households. At the same time retirement provides a greater time-budget allowing new leisure
oriented consumption, and travel. While there is a fairly large literature on retirement and
residential mobility of relatively affluent elderly to nature and the countryside, associated with rural
manifestations of gentrification (Nelson et al. 2010; Philips 1993), there is much less explicit
attention for older people in processes of urban gentrification.
In urban studies of gentrification older people are often described as victims or potential victims of
displacement. Ageing is implicit, yet present, in analyse of class-based change in which older cohorts
of working-class blue-collar workers are gradually replaced by younger and higher-educated
professionals (Hamnett 2003; Butler et al. 2008). Studies of class-based urban change often frame
the elderly as ‘weak’ households that run the risk of being directly displaced (Atkinson 2000; Henig
1981), although an ageing working class enjoying security of tenure may also serve as a temporary
brake to gentrification-induced population change (Hochstenbach & Van Gent 2015). Furthermore, it
is often assumed that elderly are most likely to be negatively affected in terms of belonging
(Phillipson 2007), because gentrification is often forwarded as a disruption of the social and cultural
life of elderly. This type of research however, finds it difficult to separate issues of class and age as
most of the neighbourhood working-class communities affected by gentrification consist of older
people and most urban elderly are lower educated than the new generation of gentrifiers.
Yet, there is increasing attention being paid to the intersection of age and class, as well as to
variations in the way older people experience and react to neighbourhood change (Pinkster 2016).
Studies from San Francisco and Montreal, for instance, point to a mixed experience of ageing in
urban communities, which do entail economic displacement and experiencing a loss of place (Burns
et al. 2011; Lehman-Frisch 2002). Hence, there is mixed evidence for how neighbourhood and urban
change is experienced and how this is differentiated across class. Phillipson (2007: 336) for instance
differentiates between the quite nostalgic experiences of some elderly that are ‘fixed’ in space,
which he calls 'the excluded', and the more elective forms of belonging of others who “actively re-
shape communities which are meaningful to them in old age”. Other research points to the
intersection of age and ethnicity: in neighbourhoods where the ethnic composition of the population
has changed over time, an ageing native working class may welcome gentrification as it brings in
more native newcomers in turn often related to nostalgic neighbourhood experiences (Ernst &
Doucet 2014). Much of this differential experience of aging is class related, but there is also a clear
generational dimension. Much of the changes in the role of elderly in spatial transformations could
be ascribed to the ageing of the largest post-war generation in Western contexts: the baby boomers.
Gentrification and the baby boomers
The baby-boom generation played a crucial role in gentrification processes in North America and
Europe. David Ley (1996) considers the rebellious and distinctive choices of this generation as
quintessential for the revival of urban living, coming to fruition during the 1960s. Most baby
boomers have now retired and are often parents to current generations of gentrifiers. Although of
course this generation is diverse in various ways, generally speaking baby boomers have been highly
successful in building up housing and other wealth, retired relatively early, and are in better health
than previous generations. Although older people are generally less residentially mobile than
younger people, the current generation of young elderly (60-75) may differ from previous
generations also in this respect. Particularly higher-educated, affluent older people may mobilize
their housing wealth to relocate in later life.
Most of the literature of gentrification and residential mobility of older generation has focused on
rural gentrification. This is argued to be growing due to the ageing of relative affluent generations
who seek out the countryside in search of the rural idyll (Nelson et al. 2010; Smith & Higley 2012).
Rural gentrification is also fuelled through the acquisition of second homes (Paris 2009; Visser 2006).
Not only do these homes serve as holiday address, but are often also vehicles for further wealth
accumulation. The demand for second homes should be considered part of a turn towards a more
speculative housing market as it forefronts housing as an investment. It is therefore likely to push up
prices contributing to gentrification and displacement but also contribute to a loss in permanent
population eroding the customer base for everyday facilities (Smith & Higley 2012). This trend is also
visible in cities where affluent elderly may buy property for their children (see above) or as pied-a-
terre (Chevalier et al. 2012). There is also renewed interest of elderly households for urban
apartments (Myers & Gearin 2001), willing to trade space for proximity to urban amenities. It had
already been noted in some early studies of gentrification that loft-living and buying of converted
condominiums was popular among older households like empty nesters (Ley 1986; Mills 1988).
Although this has never been at the centre of gentrification research, recent case studies identify
higher-educated and affluent older age groups as agents of gentrification through the purchase of
new-built apartments, condominiums, and lofts (Hamnett & Whitelegg 2007; Bounds & Morris 2006;
Butler 2007). Furthermore, particularly this group of high-educated and affluent retirees may prefer
to ‘age in place’ and have the means to successfully do so. Especially new-build developments may
cater to the demand by empty nesters and retirees for age-proof apartments in exclusive, enclosed,
safe and relatively homogeneous environments (Rose & Villeneuve 2006). This contributes to forms
of new-build gentrification often in waterfront or brownfield sites (Davidson & Lees 2005; Butler
2007), but also relates to wealthy enclaves and gated communities in rural settings (Grant &
Mittelsteadt 2004). Population ageing in most countries in the Global North (the US being an
interesting exception) but also in countries like Japan and China, may imply that older generations’
investment and residential behaviour comes to play a greater role in gentrification processes.
Patterns of ageing as well as the intersection of age and class differ between countries though:
While in many countries in the Global North a relatively well-off generation is ageing, in many
countries of the Global South the middle class tends to be smaller among older generations. It is
hence likely that ageing has a variegated impact on the geography of gentrification.
Political economy of life course
While the previous sections focused on life course shaping gentrification processes, there is also
what may be termed a political economy of life course. In the turn towards more speculative modes
of gentrification, corporate and state actors become more important agents. As more age groups
become associated with gentrification, new niche markets open up creating opportunities for
investors, states and speculative developers. Investors use specific identities and lifestyles as part of
their investment and marketing strategies to facilitate the ‘capital-led colonisation of urban space’
(Davidson 2007: 493). And age plays an important part in this: the marketing strategies for many
new urban development projects and the rebranding of neighbourhoods typically cater to a clientele
that is high income, but also relatively young and childless (Young et al. 2006; Allen 2007). Likewise,
luxury new-build projects may specifically be designed and branded to appeal to an ageing middle
class. Although age may be mobilized in several ways, it frequently plays a role in efforts to “sell”
neighbourhoods or new developments, as it is part and parcel of promoted lifestyles where class and
age intersect, and may thus be implicated in the commodification of (urban) space. Likewise, private
parties recognize the importance of intergenerational support and hence market owner-occupied
studios and other small apartments as an ideal investment opportunity for parents with studying
children. And states may be eager to encourage such intergenerational support to boost demand for
housing. For instance, in the wake of the housing-market downturn following the global financial
crisis, the Dutch government made it temporarily possible for parents to transfer up to €100,000 tax
free to their children to support with a house purchase.
By emphasizing how their developments meet the unfulfilled demands of specific age groups,
investors push through, legitimize and normalize their projects. Ultimately, such projects may
primarily serve private interests, and in fact do little to increase housing accessibility or affordability
for any age group but instead propel elitist and exclusive forms of gentrification (Davidson 2007).
This is not limited to high-end developments, but also extends into other domains such as student
housing where developers promote exclusive forms of student living by renting out expensive rooms
to students with little other options in tight housing markets (cf. Chatterton 2010).
State actors may useageas a tool of de-politicization. States underscore how their housing
policies will ultimately come to benefit certain age groups, which allows them to ignore, downplay,
or conceal important class dimensions and middle-class politics. Although this issue has received
little attention, a case study of Rotterdam shows that local urban policies to make the city more
family friendly holds many implicit notions about class (Van den Berg 2013: 529): “The neutral
language of ‘families’ and ‘amenities’ disguises the way in which very specific families are targeted:
the municipality will invest in amenities such as schools, sports clubs and childcare if it can attract
the higher middle classes”. Lower-class families are in turn barely taken into consideration, and
lower-class youths may even be targeted by punitive policies (ibid.). States may subsequently
encourage developers to focus on particular groups, for instance by providing direct subsidies or by
relaxing regulations when certain groups are the targeted clientele (Janoschka & Sequera 2016).
We have illustrated the importance of age, life course and generations in gentrification processes by
focusing on key transitions among young people, families, and older households. While age certainly
shapes residential preferences and is associated with particular constraints, life-course transitions
are generally the key moments when households may opt into or out of gentrifying areas. Life-
course transitions reshape people’s preferences for and expectations of residential environments,
and people are likely to adapt their residential arrangement accordingly (Clark & Dieleman 1996;
Musterd et al. 2016). Life-course transitions trigger new trade-offs to be made. Moving into a
gentrification area may be one particular strategy to negotiate altered preferences and constraints,
and to realign habitus and field. Table 1 gives a schematic overview of various life-course transitions
that are associated with young people, families and ageing people that may lead to gentrification.
This is not to say that all people neatly follow the same life-course trajectories and transitions, nor
that this scheme holds for each and every context. Nevertheless, as gentrification has become
mainstream it becomes an ever more likely outcome of the negotiation of various life-course
transitions. Developers recognize this and jump on those niche markets for profitable speculative
housing development, and it provides states the opportunity to lure in those households they deem
This contribution has singled out the importance to track specific generations and age cohorts in
gentrification processes: as young people and students, the baby-boom generation was crucial in
kicking off incipient forms of gentrification across major cities in the Global North (Ley 1996). Having
developed an urban middle-class habitus, some of them continue to gentrify in later life, with wealth
previously accumulated through investing in gentrifying areas allowing them to do so. They are also
the first generation to pass on a preference for gentrification to their offspring on a relatively large
scale. The same goes for the intergenerational transmission of their accumulated wealth. The
current generation of young people in Western cities is, however, confronted with a more difficult
housing position requiring ever sharper trade-offs in relation to housing, including gentrification.
Gentrification in the Global North has therefore become an increasingly multi-generational process,
with different age groups involved. Indeed, in this context gentrification is an ageing process and
pulling in older groups has been crucial to its expansion. The increasing diversity among gentrifiers
allows the process to spread to more and different types of neighbourhoods, as well as to occur in
different housing types and tenures (Table 1). Particularly major cities offer the setting where
different forms of gentrification may get a foothold, while in smaller cities their occurrence depends
to a greater extent on spatial and institutional context.
In the Global North gentrification has matured and is spreading laterally into new niche markets,
geographically variegating and sprawling. In rapidly urbanising emerging economies of the Global
South gentrification and age may intersect in different ways. Here in many ways, urban
gentrification remains mostly associated with younger people, most specifically with the emergence
of a global new middle class (Lees et al. 2015: 84). Although parallels can be drawn in terms of
capital investment and also in terms of consumption lifestyles, the way in which life courses,
residential trajectories and transformation of urban space are intertwined differ quite fundamentally
from American and European experiences. This is, we argue, important for understanding how we
should understand gentrification’s evolution from a significant yet relatively marginal counter
current into a major force of urban change permeating into ever new corners of the globe
(Hackworth & Smith 2001). Also in various countries of the Global South, notably China,
gentrification is spreading through specific forms closely associated to age and life course such as
forms related to studenthood (He 2015) and family formation and school choice (Wu et al. 2016). It
is important to draw in age, particularly life course, to better grasp the geography of gentrification
as the manifestation of capital investment and class power in historically developed institutional and
spatial contexts.
Table 1. Different forms of gentrification with different age groups and life-course transitions
Age group
Life-course transition
Young people
Leaving parental home
Student room,
house sharing
market entry
Private rental,
Settling down
family homes
Dual incomes;
School choice
Having children
Older people
Empty nesting
Lofts and
Second homes
Ageing in place;
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... Hochstenbach & Boterman, 2018;Salmela-Aro et al., 2007). As a consequence, coincidences of spatial and social (im)mobility as well as life course transitions have led several authors to implicitly or explicitly proclaim certain urban spaces as "geographies of opportunity" (e.g., Fielding & Halford, 1993;Galster & Killen, 1995;Rosenbaum et al., 2002;Simons & Weiden, 2016). ...
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Since the 1990s, the gentrification process in the U.S. has diffused down the urban hierarchy and to neighborhoods further from downtown. This paper focuses on one census tract in the inner-ring suburbs of one mid-sized city in the U.S. undergoing gentrification between 2000 and 2016. While the use of census data to measure gentrification has been around for decades, a new tool, Google Street View, can now supplement the measurement of gentrification. Using census data, Google Street View imagery, and Hwang’s (Gentrification, race, and immigration in the changing American city, Harvard University, Cambridge, 2015) gentrification index, I document change in the built environment of the neighborhood of Northside (Tract 74) in the city of Cincinnati. This tract’s accessible location to downtown Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati/Hospital Complex as well as the availability of high-quality, low-cost housing made it a focal point for individual, corporate, and government investment after 2000. By 2014/16, that investment had transformed the built environment of Tract 74. There is no evidence that the Great Recession slowed the gentrification process as Tract 74 transitioned from disinvested in 2011 to early stage gentrification by 2014/16.
This paper contributes to the gentrification literature by asking how tenure changes, housing stock changes, and generational shifts might be related to gentrification as identified by household income growth in the inner cities of Canada’s three largest metropolitan areas. We use a modified shift-share analysis of changes in tenure, housing stock, and age-tenure cohorts between 1991 and 2011 to examine these questions in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, Canada’s largest metropolitan areas. We find that in each case, gentrification is associated with an absolute decline in non-condo private-sector rental units, and that construction of non-market/social housing units has not been sufficient to compensate for the private-sector units lost to gentrification. Our analysis demonstrates that changes in the class structure of households, more than generational or age-cohort composition shifts, are at the heart of inner-city transformations in tenure and income among households. The big story is the absolute loss of affordable rental units in each inner city, and the concomitant exclusionary displacement of lower-income households that has resulted.
This paper joins in with the discussion on the temporalities of rural gentrification. Based on a case-study in the rural town of Ağlasun in South-West Anatolia, Turkey, we compare the influx of diverse groups of seasonal gentrifiers (second home users, students, tourists) and its material and experiential effects. Although actual material displacement was generally found to be limited, experiential displacement pressure did differ amongst the three groups. Our findings indicate the importance of the temporal dimensions of gentrification in understanding its differential effects. We identified four key dimensions which determined the effects and perceptions of seasonal gentrification in Ağlasun: The three groups did not only differ according to the periodicity of their migration, but also in their rhythms of everyday life. In addition, the particularity of our case study revealed the importance of two additional temporal dimensions: the impermanence of gentrifiers’ residence, as well as the historical sequence of events gentrification is embedded in. Both significantly influence the evaluation of gentrification’s costs and benefits by long-term residents.
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The pre-pandemic unbridled growth of tourism has triggered a significant debate regarding the future of cities; several authors suggest that neighbourhood change produced by tourism should be conceived as a form of gentrification. Yet research on population shifts-a fundamental dimension of gentrification-in such neighbourhoods is scarce. Our exploration of the Gòtic area in Barcelona, using quantitative and qualitative techniques, reveals a process of population restructuring characterised by a decrease of long-term residents and inhabited dwellings, and the arrival of young and transnational gentrifiers that are increasingly mobile and form a transient population. We then use some insights from the mobilities literature to make sense of these results. In the gentrification of the Gòtic, the attractiveness of the area for visitors and for a wider palette of transnational dwellers feed one another, resulting in an uneven negotiation whereby more wealthy and 'footloose' individuals gain access and control of space and housing over less mobile and more dependent populations.
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Homeownership has been declining in favour of private renting in most developed English speaking countries since the early-2000s. Public debates in countries like Britain, Australia and the US have subsequently focused on the ostensible coming of age of ‘generation rent’, constituted of younger individuals excluded from home buying and traditional routes to housing asset accumulation. While the focus of this paper is the significance of access to housing assets as a means to offset potential economic and welfare precarity, our concern is landlords rather than tenants. Drawing on British survey data, we show that the rental boom has been accompanied by increasing multiple property ownership among classes of largely middle-aged and relatively affluent households. Over one-million small-time landlords have emerged in the last decade alone, who, we argue, are part product of historic developments in housing markets and welfare states. Generations of British have not only been orientated towards their homes as commodity assets, they have also begun to mobilise around multi-property accumulation in a context of shifting welfare and pension expectations.
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Recent discussions of gentrification in the UK have centred on new builds and on the influence of particular public programmes. This paper focuses on a form of gentrification that has cut across both of these: buy-to-let, broadly defined as the purchase and transfer of a dwelling to the private rental market. Initiated in response to a favourable legislative and financial context, this form of property investment has not usually been considered as gentrification, likely because it is at odds with the historical link between gentrification and ownership in the UK, poses problems with consumption side explanations and is not seen as displacing low-income residents. The paper uses a detailed comparison of small-area social and tenure data from the 2001 and 2011 UK censuses to show that buy-to-let has become a prominent tenure trajectory in gentrifying neighbourhoods. This prominence emerges from the opportunity it affords to use the general value gap created by the deregulation of the private rental sector to close rent gaps in the most urban, central and disadvantaged areas of England. This tenure shift, shown to be intrinsically linked to gentrification, creates vast opportunities for asset appreciation but also initiates long term trajectories of displacement in surrounding areas.
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Demand for owner-occupied housing has expanded dramatically across modern-industrialized societies in recent years leading to volatile increases in residential property values. This book explores the rise of modern home-ownership as a cultural, socio-political and ideological phenomenon.
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In studies on the ties between residents and their residential surroundings, it is generally assumed that, over time, residents become more attached to their neighbourhood. However, as neighbourhoods change due to economic, political and social processes at higher spatial scales, so may residents’ relationship to them. A qualitative case study in a working-class neighbourhood in Amsterdam explored the circumstances under which residents come to experience a loss of belonging. In-depth interviews provide insight into the way in which residents perceive, experience and make sense of processes of neighbourhood change. Although a particular group of Villagers express a strong sense of belonging to the neighbourhood, they perceive a process of neighbourhood decline, which they attribute to changing housing regimes, retrenchment of the local welfare state and shifting paradigms in neighbourhood governance. Consequently, the experienced disruption of neighbourhood life and local ways of ‘doing’ neighbourhood also result in feelings of discontent with governing institutions and the wider society. The study therefore draws attention to both the salience of the local in, and the relational nature of, neighbourhood belonging.
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In this article, we develop a contextual framing for the analysis of the social, economic and political transformations that have altered Latin American cities since the turn of the century, especially by displacing deprived households from the central city. We de-centre research on gentrification through the territorial and linguistic lens of Latin America, epitomising four simultaneously paradigmatic, but diverging and diverse gentrification scenarios. In such a comparativist account, emphasis is placed on: (i) the decisive role that public institutions play for gentrification in Latin America, especially with regard to the ferocity of new real estate markets; (ii) the symbolic violence that is required to re-appropriate architectural and cultural heritage; (iii) the vehemence of formalising urbanity in economies that are dominated by informal ways of producing, living and appropriating the city. Such debates conceptualise displacement and eviction from a perspective that is theoretically informed by the realities of Latin American cities.
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At the beginning of the twenty-first century, proclamations rang out that gentrification had gone global. But what do we mean by 'gentrification' today? How can we compare 'gentrification' in New York and London with that in Shanghai, Johannesburg, Mumbai and Rio de Janeiro? This book argues that gentrification is one of the most significant and socially unjust processes affecting cities worldwide today, and one that demands renewed critical assessment. Drawing on the 'new' comparative urbanism and writings on planetary urbanization, the authors undertake a much-needed transurban analysis underpinned by a critical political economy approach. Looking beyond the usual gentrification suspects in Europe and North America to non-Western cases, from slum gentrification to mega-displacement, they show that gentrification has unfolded at a planetary scale, but it has not assumed a North to South or West to East trajectory the story is much more complex than that. Rich with empirical detail, yet wide-ranging, Planetary Gentrification unhinges, unsettles and provincializes Western notions of urban development. It will be invaluable to students and scholars interested in the future of cities and the production of a truly global urban studies, and equally importantly to all those committed to social justice in cities.
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Parental support, in both financial and non-financial ways, is important in explaining the residential trajectories of young people leaving home. For instance, the influence of parental support on the ability to leave home or enter homeownership is well established. This study adds a dimension by investigating how inequalities in terms of parental background – particularly assets – are spatially articulated. More specifically, we study whether parental background influences the types of neighbourhoods young people leaving home move to. Drawing on the case of Amsterdam, we show that these ‘fledglings’, despite their generally very modest income, disproportionally move to gentrification neighbourhoods. Moreover, fledglings with wealthy parents are even more likely to move to both early gentrifying and expensive mature-gentrification neighbourhoods. Gentrification research should therefore also take into account the importance of middle class social reproduction strategies as well as the potential intergenerational transfer of (financial) resources – rather than merely personal financial situation – in shaping housing outcomes and spatial inequalities of young people leaving home. Drawing on parental support, young people may be able to outbid other households and hence exclude them from gentrifying neighbourhoods. Consequently, parental wealth and other resources can thus contribute to gentrification and exclusion.
Suburban communities have experienced a radical transformation in the past century, and now they are where most Americans live. This chaper summarizes the historical evolution of the modern suburb, presents the major suburban theories, and reviews the empirical evidence on the suburban form and social structure. We discuss the suburbanization process in the context of urban decline and change. Finally we review the suburban crisis that has developed after decades of rapid population growth and industrialization. The challenges facing today’s suburbs include political fragmentation in regional governance, a growth revolt by local residents, a declining quality of community life, and a lack of affordable housing. The response to the suburban crisis by governments, business, and local residents will affect future suburban growth and suburban form.
In this paper I explore the relationship between population and housing. I argue that this relationship is two-sided. On the one hand, the size of a population, and particularly the number of households, determines the demand for housing. On the other hand, the availability of suitable and affordable housing may attract certain categories of migrants. It also influences young people's opportunities to leave the parental home, marry or cohabit, and have children. Furthermore, home-ownership hampers residential mobility and migration by binding people to a place.