Rear-view mirror image of 'elephant in the room'

They say, "demographics is destiny." They're usually talking about a glacially slow progression of people pattern changes, and they're usually looking in the rear-view mirror when they say it.

Well, as we as car drivers must be well aware, "objects in this mirror are closer than they seem."

Demographics is no longer operating on analog time, which means that changes to the math and make-up of households will impact the already somewhat tricky relationship between your front-loaded investments in developing and building new homes, and the favorable closing of the investment loop when you settle with brand new owners.

New Strategist Press editorial director Cheryl Russell notes in her spotlight on household "living arrangements of adults" data recently released by the Census, that there's one age-range where changes in living arrangements have been less dramatic than the rest:

Stability, sort of (35 to 64): This is the age group with the most stability in living arrangements. Nevertheless, between 1967 and 2014 the married share fell substantially among both men (from 86 to 65 percent) and women (from 77 to 62 percent). Two out of three people in those age ranges lived as married couples in the same home in 1967, whereas today, only one out of two do.

Here's the way the Census bureau's data meisters reveal that that data point looks:

Census data on adult living arrangements show that almost half of adults in 2014 do not live with a spouse.

Now, this is held up as an example of an age-range among adult households that has been relatively stable during the past half-century. Imagine how profound the changes have been in those 47 years in the age-ranges below and above that middle stretch! Look, for instance, at the shift in young adults, 18 to 24, and 25 to 34 year olds, living "in there parental home."

Census data on young adults living at home: 1960 to present

Russell points out that changes in the 65 to 74 year-old spectrum, and those in the 75-plus range are equally dramatic. She writes:

More couples (65 to 74): The married share of women in this age group climbed from 45 to 57 percent between 1967 and 2014, while men's married share barely changed (falling from 79 to 75 percent). Behind the change for women is increasing life expectancy, delaying widowhood.

Living alone (75-plus): Men and women who have been widowed are now more likely to live alone than with other relatives (mostly adult children). In 1967, the reverse was true.

Uncertainties abound as to where profit making opportunity and where risk lurks ahead during this fluid period of change in the basic make-up of households and how they work as nano-economies in our society. So, it's no wonder, on the eve of sure knowledge as to how articulate what and how things are changing, myths and misconceptions should proliferate as to how households are behaving.

What's more while household composition is one demographics area that is in "sped up" flux, so, too, is the geography of households and jobs in an accelerated transition period. The Urban Land Institute has this analytical dive, which cross-tabs walkability and corporate re-locations, to show the matrix of consumer preference for walkable access to jobs and other conveniences and job center growth.

A SmartGrowth America heat map of corporate re-locations to walkable downtown areas.

This is “evidence of the pent-up demand for walkable urban places,” says Patrick Lynch of GWU’s Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis.

And here, a Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland study done by Brown University professor Nathaniel Baum-Snow and Cleveland Fed research economist Daniel Hartley corroborates the ULI analysis, again with sharp emphasis on the accelerated rate of demographic and geographic change when it comes to the economy's basic building block, households:

The demographic compositions of neighborhoods in and near the downtown areas of medium to large U.S. cities have been changing. Since 1980, residents in these areas have become higher income, better educated, and more likely to be white, on average. Though these changes began in the 1980s, these patterns of neighborhood change have become more widespread and dramatic since 2000.

Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland data on demographics changes in downtown metro areas

Our conclusion in light of the pace of change in demographics: Lead the money. The inverse is what most would advise. That would be a mistake, because to "follow the money" would be to follow capital into the places where it succeeded in the past, not where it needs to go to generate returns on the future. These are big changes and they're happening as we speak. Objects in this mirror are closer than they appear.