Where are all the millennials in New Canaan? Group makes up 6.3 percent of residents
NEW CANAAN — When Madison Mulhern was looking for teaching jobs prior to graduating from Pennsylvania State University, she set her sights on returning to her hometown of New Canaan.
“It was always my dream to come back to New Canaan and teach,” said Mulhern, now a third-grade teacher at her alma mater, South School. “I didn’t think it could happen right away, but it did.”
Mulhern now lives at home in New Canaan with her parents, with whom she says she’s very close. But the 22-year-old is a bit of an anomaly in New Canaan. Despite the U.S. Census Bureau estimating in 2016 that millennials are the largest living generation in the country, estimates from the bureau also show millennials only make up about 6.3 percent of New Canaan’s population.
Pew Research Center defines a millennial as anyone between the age of 18 and 34 in 2015. According to the most recent census data in New Canaan from 2010, about 1,210 millennials were living in New Canaan out of about 19,000 residents. According to five-year Census estimates, the average age in town is 43.1.
New Canaan is often called “the next station to heaven,” so why isn’t it more attractive to the country’s largest population?
Millennials in New Canaan, per the last U.S. Census
Millennials in New Canaan,
per the last
18-year-olds - 243
19-year-olds - 84
20 -year-olds - 83
21-year-olds - 68
22-year-olds - 116
23-year-olds - 119
24-year-olds - 76
25-year-olds - 85
26-year-olds - 85
27-year-olds - 64
28-year-olds - 77
29-year-olds - 83
30-year-olds - 84
31-year-olds - 95
32-year-olds - 86
33-year-olds - 102
34-year-olds - 126
“I don’t think a lot of people in their twenties move to town in general,” said First Selectman Kevin Moynihan. “Millennials are waiting until they’re older to have children.”
In August of 2017, the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce, town officials and members of the New Canaan Board of Realtors joined forces to produce a series of videos aimed in part at attracting a younger generation to town. The videos were meant to emphasize the town’s diversity, cultural and culinary offerings, proximity to New York, safety, good school systems and its vibrant, multigenerational downtown.
“It’s a result of certain trends that we’ve seen a younger group bypassing this town,” said William Larkin, of William Pitt Sotheby’s when the videos were released. “We’re trying to dispel these myths about what these towns are about and attract a much broader audience.”
The Center for Disease Control reported in 2015 birth rates were rising for women aged 30 to 44, with the largest increase being in mothers aged 40 to 44. Moynihan, who moved to New Canaan with young children when he was 32, said he’s now seeing many of his children’s friends in their late 30s looking to move out of the city and to the suburbs...but not necessarily to New Canaan.
“I know from seeing a lot of my son’s and daughter’s friends in the 35 to 40 range, that’s when they’re looking to leave Manhattan,” Moynihan said. “They actually gravitate more to Greenwich...People follow each other and Greenwich has a lot to offer.”
Moynihan’s own children, aged 38 and 40, live in Greenwich, which he said they were attracted to because of the better commute time to the city from there and more choices in starter homes. With an average median household income of $176,601 according to the Census Bureau, and a median home price of $1,586,500 according to the real estate website Zillow, New Canaan isn’t the most affordable option for millennials.
Both of these things, Moynihan said, cannot be changed about New Canaan.
“I don’t think there’s many people who want to move back to New Canaan,” Moynihan said. “For my own kids, the desirability of Greenwich and the easier commute all outweigh the benefits of growing up here... it all depends on lifestyle preferences. I don’t believe there’s any solution I could offer them. It’s simply economics.”
Holly Donaldson Casella said her husband initially wanted to move to Greenwich for the shorter commute time. But the couple ended up in New Canaan after Casella, a New Canaan native, convinced her husband the benefits of the town outweighed the extra 20 minutes he tacked on to his commute to New York City.
“If (people) grew up here, they know how special it is,” she said. “For a lot of my friends who are deciding to move out of the city and looking for that next step, Darien is really attractive to the untrained eye because of the quicker commute...parking for commuting and better cell service. But I think what makes New Canaan so special is our town center. Other towns really don’t have that and I think there’s much more community here. A lot of people who grow up here come back here so there’s a lot of continuity.”
Casella, 29, lived in New York City for six years after graduating Hamilton College. Despite the fact she was previously working for Americares in Stamford, Casella said she did a reverse commute so she could live near her friends in the city. But once she was ready to buy a home, she knew she didn’t want to stay in New York.
“I always didn’t really like the city,” she said. “I like green space. I like to drive my car places. It was really fun to live in the city, but at one point, I was over it.”
Casella moved to New Canaan with her husband in the summer of 2017. Casella grew up in New Canaan, but didn’t necessarily think she would return to town. But after looking at nearby Darien and Bedford, N.Y., Casella and her husband, 30, were drawn to New Canaan for its town center.
Casella works in town as the director of alumni affairs at her alma mater, New Canaan Country School. But her husband works in New York City. While his office being located in Grand Central Station helps cut back on commute time, she admits the commute time can be a struggle, as is commuter parking.
Casella said her husband drives to the Noroton Heights train station in Darien or she will often drop him off at the station. Occasionally, he’ll park at her father’s law office in downtown New Canaan and walk to the station. But if he can’t catch a direct train, the transfer tacks on time to his commute.”
“It’s a bummer when he gets out later and has to change in Stamford to get back to New Canaan,” Casella said. “Sometimes he’ll drive to Noroton and park there if he knows he has to do that.”
Still, Casella maintains the charm of New Canaan outweighs some of its commuter issues. She and her husband enjoy New Canaan’s green space and downtown, especially the restaurants some of which she says compare to those in New York City. The two also joined New Canaan Country Club to meet other young couples, though Casella said she already has a strong network of people in town she knows from growing up there.
“It’s a testament to New Canaan,” she said. “People come here because they want to live here.”
Casella said most of her friends in town are married, some with children, while most of her friends who are still single are living in Stamford or New York City for the social scene.
Janis Hennessy, president of the New Canaan Board of Realtors, said she’s seen a similar trend. While it appears many young people are drawn to cities for their bustling nightlife, many young couples are drawn into New Canaan once they’re ready to have children. These couples are often with New Canaan/Fairfield County natives or know someone from the area.
“Once a young couple comes for the first time and you give them a tour of the town, I think they’re sold before they’ve even gone into a house,” said Hennessy who moved to town in 1991 and has been selling homes since 1995. “When they see the downtown and they see one of the many parks we have, they see themselves there. They want their family to be part of that. Then you talk about schools. They’re nationally ranked.”
Schools may not be a priority for younger millennials living in town, but for those working in the area or living at home, New Canaan still has a lot of appeal.
“I love New Canaan,” Mulhern said. “It’s a community feel when you walk through town. It’s always felt like home to me.”
Mulhern said a handful of her friends have returned to town to live at home, while some have moved to Boston or other big cities. On the weekends, she says she and her friends will go to Stamford, South Norwalk or even New York City if they want to go out, depending on what she’s “up for that day.” Mostly, Mulhern said she spends her free time lesson planning or spending time with family and friends and going out to eat in town. She also said she enjoys going to Grace Farms to catch up on work.
Mulhern said she hasn’t thought seriously about moving out of her parent’s home yet, but she is content to stay in New Canaan for the time being. While many post-grads feel the pull of living in cities, Mulhern said with the top ranking of New Canaan schools, along with the appeal of the area make her content to stay.