Jul 28, 2014
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Three Village Ages Along With America [The Village Mix]

A closer look at what may be driving the increase in median age in Three Village.

Three Village Ages Along With America [The Village Mix]

In the last decade, as hundreds of people left the Three Village area, the median age of the community has risen by approximately three years, according to recent Census statistics.

The median age in Setauket is 42.6 while in Stony Brook—not including Stony Brook University—the median age is 43. In 2000, both hamlets had median ages under 39.

The aging population of Three Village is a reflection of a nationwide trend that has raised many questions and theories regarding the economy, employment rates, affordable housing, and the retiring of the baby boomer population.

Villager Has Witnessed Changes

Local resident Ed Zero has lived in Three Village since the 1950s, before Stony Brook University was around. Since then he has owned three homes here in which he has raised his two daughters. 

“It is a wonderful area to raise kids, extraordinary school district, wonderful beaches and wonderful resources,” Zero said. “The challenges are fiscal.”

Zero has witnessed the changes in the population as older residents retire and more homes are sold to couples with young children.

"As far as people retiring, some people are on a fixed income and for those who haven't planned accordingly it becomes difficult to afford fiscal responsibilities," Zero said.

There is no doubt that Three Village is not among the most affordable places for young adults to settle in New York. Median home values in Stony Brook are at $399,000 and in Setauket at $587,000, according to AOL Real Estate data – above the New York median of $336,500 and the national median of $146,900, according to Zillow.com.

Longtime resident Ann Helfgott said that in addition to the initial cost to purchase a home, she knew of other reasons residents have left Three Village.

"Some of the people who moved, moved out for lower taxes, and some moved out for the retirement community, and some people who moved to Manhattan wanted to be where there was more going on than goes on around here," Helfgott said.

However, 2010 Census statistics show that the aging population is not limited to Three Village, suggesting that there may be other factors involved aside from the cost of living, availability of jobs, and nightlife.

“Increased medical care and the length of life has gotten much longer, so the average age of the population has gotten considerably higher,” said Thomas R. Sexton, professor and associate dean for academic programs at Stony Brook University. “With the graying of America, the average age is going to be higher across the country.”

By 2010 many states reached a median age above 40, including Florida, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maine, according to the Census. States with the youngest populations were Texas, Utah, and Idaho. New York was in the middle with a median age of 38. As a country, the United States reached a median age of 37.2, up by about two years from 2000, when it was 35.3.

The Census attributed the overall higher median age to the aging of the baby boomer population, the improvement in mortality rates, and the stabilization of birth rates. Still, long-time residents of Three Village suggest that possible solutions for balancing out the median age reside in better jobs for young adults. 

“It’s an extraordinary place and you have access to a world-class research institution," Zero said, "but the real challenge is a prepared work force and jobs for that work force with salaries that will allow people to remain in the area."

The Job Hunter 

Thousands of young adults populate the Three Village area during their time at Stony Brook University, but for a number of reasons, very few stick around after graduation, causing the median age of the population to increase.

During a time when unemployment is already an issue, finding a job right out of college is that much more difficult.

Even jobs in the field of nursing, which was once thought to be a promising field to enter after graduation, are now increasingly harder to find, according to npr.org.

“I left Long Island for New York City because I wanted to go to graduate school, but certainly if I wasn't going to graduate school I would have left anyway,” said Brian DeCourcy, 26, who completed his undergraduate degree at Stony Brook. “There's not many jobs for someone with a Bachelor's in history.”

To further complicate the job search, Long Island as a whole lacks heavy manufacturing, which is a sector of the economy that often hires young people, according to Sexton. With places like Brookhaven National Laboratory nearby, there is more of a focus on a “knowledge economy.” In a knowledge economy, employers seek highly trained and educated individuals, making it more difficult for younger people to break into these jobs, according to Sexton.

The House Hunter

Compared to the suburbs of New Jersey, Long Island has a shamefully low percentage of rentals available to young adults, said James Britz, Vice President of the Long Island Housing Partnership, Inc.

“When you’re coming out of college or just starting out, you don’t have the money to own your first home,” Britz said. “You’d like to live in a rental, maybe with a friend or someone for a year or two, but on Long Island there’s such a lack of rentals.”

While there are places such as Fairfield Properties and Setauket Knolls Garden Apartments with spaces for rent in Three Village, the cost is often unaffordable for young adults. For instance, Fairfield Properties spaces in Setauket typically start out around $2,100 a month, according to fairfieldproperties.com.  

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in 2011 fair market rents were $1,218 for a studio apartment, $1,348 for a one-bedroom apartment, and $1,592 for a two-bedroom apartment.

Areas such as Patchogue offer more affordable living spaces for young adults, according to Britz. The average age in Patchogue is 37.3, according to the most recent Census statistics. Nearby, Lake Ronkonkoma has a median age of 39.

“A place like Stony Brook and Setauket is not just the home of a big institution and higher education, but also of a much older settled, high-income community that attracts upper-middle class families and people that have been established for a time in their careers,” said Seth Forman, the chief planner for Suffolk County of Long Island Regional Planning Council.

Percentages of the Population by Age from 2000-2010 

Age Setauket 2010  Setauket 2000  Stony Brook 2010  Stony Brook 2000  Under 5-19 27.7 28.7 25.9 28.8 20-24 5.0 5.5 6.1 21.0 25-34 8.0 12.4 7.4 10.7 35-44 13.1 16.9 13.6 17.4 45-54 18 16.8 16.8 15.6 55-59 7.4 6.2 6.7 6.4 60-64 7.5 4.2 6.5 4.5 65-74 8.0 6.0 9.1 6.9 75-84 4.1 2.7 5.5 4.5 85+ 1.1 0.7 2.2 1.3 Median Age 42.6 37.0 43.0 38.8

Editor's Note: Over the next few months, Three Village Patch will be probing the issue of diversity in the community through our The Village Mix series. If you have any ideas or would like to contribute to the narrative as a Patch blogger, email christines@patch.com.

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