L.A. population is aging fast. Here’s how it’s dramatically transforming the city

Alex Ortega, 84, dances while enjoying festivities with his fellow seniors
Alex Ortega, 84, dances while enjoying festivities with his fellow seniors at the 1st Annual Senior Prom sponsored by St. Barnabas Senior Services and held at Crescent Arms senior housing in Los Angeles on July 14, 2023.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
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Despite its image as a magnet of youth, Los Angeles County is aging fast.

The region is getting older thanks to a series of demographic shifts, including slowing immigration, declining birth rates and unaffordable housing that is pricing out young people on a budget.

“We’ve never been top heavy like this before,” with a lack of young people to support older generations, said Dowell Myers, a professor of policy, planning and demography at USC. “We’re still figuring out how to deal with it.”

A decade of rapid aging

Between 2012 and 2022, the county’s median age rose by 2.6 years to 37.4 years old. The 7.5% increase was more than 50% higher than the national rate of aging.


In the 10-year period, the number of Angelenos under the age of 10 decreased by 20%. The number of those between 10 and 19 decreased by 14%.

Those in their 60s rose by 32%, and in their 70s by a striking 40%.

The county and state are aging for similar reasons, Myers said.

Housing prices driving out the young

California has some of the highest housing prices in the nation, both in terms of rents and soaring costs for homes and condos. That has forced some young adults who want to own a home to question whether they can afford places like Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Orange County.

“It’s a gradual, slow leak but it’s cumulative and they tend not to come back, mainly because of housing prices,” Myers said, calling the trend “devastating for the future.”

Typically, younger residents live in urban centers and older people are more concentrated in exurbs, he said. But housing shortages have pushed young people into far-flung locales, leading to a youth drain in cities.

At the same time, some people who bought homes decades ago are staying in them much longer as they get older, reducing the supply of housing available and jacking up prices even more.


“People in their 20s are the most important people in California,” Myers said, “and there’s a shortage of them nationwide” — causing the state to have to compete with others where home prices are far lower for a limited number of potential new residents.

According to a recent poll conducted for the Los Angeles Business Council Institute in partnership with the Los Angeles Times, nearly three-quarters of renters and those under 35 have given consideration to moving out of Los Angeles compared with 37% of homeowners and 26% of those 65 or older.

Migration and birth rates

Additionally, Myers said, California is not attracting enough transplants in their 20s from other states to balance out the aging population.

Of all the people who moved in California in 2022 — either within the state or from without — just 11% arrived from other states — the lowest figure in the nation and a far lower rate than the national average of 20%, according to census data.

Migration out of California had slowed from pandemic highs but still lingered at a loss of 260,000 people in 2022-2023, according to the census.


Lower birth rates have also caused concern among demographers, who caution that the new workforce may not be big enough to support the needs of a relatively large number of retirees.

California’s birth rate is the lowest it’s been in over 100 years, dropping from a peak of nearly 25 births per 1,000 people in 1957 to fewer than 11 per 1,000 in 2021, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

In 2008, the average woman in the state had 2.15 children in her lifetime, enough to sustain the state’s population. By 2022, that figure had plummeted to 1.52 children per woman — the eighth lowest figure in the country.

Schools hit hard

As a result, schools are at the forefront of the state’s shifting demographics.

In L.A. County, “we’re seeing a huge decline in attendance,” said Pedro Noguera, dean of USC’s Rossier School of Education.

Enrollment numbers dropped 10%, from 1.5 million in 2018-2019 to 1.365 million in 2022-2023, according to the Education Data Partnership.

The primary cause: Families are “moving out to cheaper areas, including out of state,” Noguera said.


Declining numbers of school-age children due to broad demographic shifts have concrete effects on schools because funding is often tied to enrollment numbers.

“Even when enrollment drops, people don’t want to give up their schools,” Noguera said, as campuses can be “an anchor in the neighborhood.”

But budget cuts will ultimately force closures. “They’re delaying as long as they can, but eventually they won’t be able to keep that up,” he added.

And with a housing and affordability crisis making many California residents think twice before having children, the population problem is unlikely to go away soon.

Drilling down

Below are the median ages of every census tract in the 2022 survey:

Not surprisingly, a census tract around UCLA, with a population of almost 13,000, has a median age of 19.5.


On the other end of the age spectrum, a neighborhood of 4,400 people in La Mirada is the county’s oldest census tract.

The northeastern corner of La Mirada is home to several adult housing communities and has a median age of 63.5 years.

Despite the population trends, Southern California is relatively young compared with northern parts of the state.

Along the Oregon border and in the Sierras, the median ages are in the high 40s and even 50s.

Few communities in California got significantly younger between 2012 and 2022.

Southern California’s major counties were remarkably consistent in their rate of aging: San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, Los Angeles and Ventura counties each aged by about 2.5 years during the decade.


Although California’s main draws — its warm weather and diversity of food and culture — have stayed strong, housing costs continue to hamper potential growth, Myers said.

When other states take young people from California, “they steal the future of the economy,” he said. “It begins to degrade the quality of life for everybody else.”