fb-pixel Skip to main content

The faces and stories of Generation Boston

Making one of America’s oldest cities young

With its dozens of college and universities, Boston has long been a youthful city. But more and more, young adults are deciding to stay in the Boston area — or move here — after graduation.

Young adults make up a third of Boston’s population, and more in Somerville and Cambridge. They are making one of America’s oldest cities young. Here are their stories.

Making ends meet

Pressed & Brewed Photography

Jill Fisher, 25, Brookline

To make ends meet through college, Jill Fisher took a part-time job at Starbucks and worked as a nanny. But in order to secure a full-time position post-grad, she knew she would have to work even harder.

And so when she wasn’t working or studying, she interned. She completed five internships in public relations, event planning, and marketing, all positions outside her fine-arts degree program.

“It was made very clear to me that college doesn’t just guarantee you a job,” Fisher said. “I knew rent was high. I knew I couldn’t sustain working at Starbucks. I needed to think about these things.”

So Fisher gave herself a deadline. She had six months to try to make it work in Boston. If it didn’t, she would relocate, possibly to her hometown of Pittsburgh.

She didn’t need to. Three months before she graduated, she accepted the position of Web editor for America’s Test Kitchen.

Even with Fisher’s full-time employment, her hustling has not abated. She still works as a nanny to supplement her income.

“There’s not enough discussion in college about how you are going to finance yourself afterwards,” Fisher said.

Calculating getting around

Courtesy of Hannah Reff

Hannah Reff, 27, Somerville

Before Hannah Reff goes anywhere in Greater Boston, she has to do the “transit math.”

First, Reff checks the schedules of the buses that run near her home in Somerville’s Union Square. Then, she makes sure the trains are on time. Often, she budgets for cab fare, just in case she’s out after public transit closes.

Reff walks to work. She bikes around her neighborhood. When she commutes to Boston University for graduate classes, she takes public transit. At least once a week, she rents a car from Zipcar or calls for a ride from Lyft.

“It does help to have all these different ways to get where you’re going, but it can be frustrating sometimes,” Reff said.

Three thousand miles and a completely different transportation culture away from her hometown of Los Angeles, the 27-year-old is surrounded by transportation options.

“Here, when we leave the house to go somewhere, there’s the back and forth about how we are going to get there,” she said. “Sometimes, there are a few too many options, and none are reliable.”

Temporary transplant

Anush Elbakyan/Globe Staff

Ahmed Shadmann, 28, Cambridge

Ahmed Shadmann traveled more than 8,000 miles from Bangladesh to live in Cambridge to study finance and developmental economics in a graduate program at Tufts University in 2013.

He and his wife looked forward to exploring the East Coast but soon discovered they liked Boston best.

“I feel like this is a more intellectual community,” Shadmann said.

Yet, as much as Shadmann adores the city, he knows he might not be able to make it a permanent home. About 64 in 1,000 Boston-area students come from foreign lands; about 53 percent of them stay to work here post-graduation.

It doesn’t look like Shadmann will be one of them. Last summer, the 28-year-old relocated to Washington for a summer internship. The Boston economy just doesn’t boast enough positions in his field, he said.

“I would like to stay,” Shadmann said. “I really like it here, especially compared to other cities. Do I think that’s a foreseeable option? No, I really don’t.”

Always on the move

Courtesy of Heather Montana

Heather Montana, 29, Medford

Heather Montana first came to Boston in the summer of 2007 to study German at Harvard University. She lived in a subleased apartment in Allston and fell in love with the city.

When she returned to the Hub after completing graduate school, she settled into a one-bedroom apartment in Arlington. But Montana quickly realized that living alone was too much of a budget strain. She started looking for roommates.

Montana moved to Somerville, where the rent was half what she paid in Arlington. But she shared her three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with two roommates, four dogs, and a cat.

Now, she lives in Medford.

“I have a job that pays more than each of my parents make, but that doesn’t result in a high standard of living,” said Montana, who works in higher education administration. “It’s hard to get rid of the student debt when so much of my paycheck goes to housing.”

As much as Montana loves the Boston area, she is unsure if she will stay permanently. On her horizon: Austin, Texas, another young city.

“Properties are so much cheaper there,” she said.<div class='article-graphic table'> <p class="graphichead">How young adults live in the Boston area</p> <p class='subtitle'>Percent of total households in the municipality occupied by 15 to 34 year olds</p> <div id="key"></div></div> <style> table.responsive-table { margin: 0 0 1em 0; width: 100%; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 1em; border-collapse: collapse; border-spacing: 0; } table.responsive-table * { -moz-box-sizing: border-box; box-sizing: border-box; margin: 0; padding: 0; border: 0; font-size: 100%; font: inherit; vertical-align: baseline; text-align: left; color: #333; } table.responsive-table thead { border-bottom: 1px solid #ccc; } table.responsive-table th { font-weight: bold; padding: 0.25em; } table.responsive-table td { padding: 0.25em; font-size: 0.9em; } table.responsive-table tr { border-bottom: 1px solid #ccc; } table.responsive-table .number { text-align: right; } table.responsive-table.zebra tr:nth-child(even) { background: #efefef; } @media screen and (max-width:400px) { table.responsive-table { display: block; width: 100%; } table.responsive-table .number { text-align: left; } table.responsive-table tr.hideMobile, table.responsive-table th.hideMobile, table.responsive-table td.hideMobile { display: none; } table.responsive-table thead { display: none; } table.responsive-table tbody { display: block; width: 100%; } table.responsive-table tr, table.responsive-table th, table.responsive-table td { display: block; padding: 0; } table.responsive-table th[data-title]:before, table.responsive-table td[data-title]:before { content: attr(data-title) ":\00A0"; font-weight: bold; } table.responsive-table tr { border-bottom: 1px solid #ccc; margin: 0; padding: 0.5em 0; } table.responsive-table tr:nth-child(even) { background: none; } table.responsive-table td { padding: 0.25em 0.5em 0 0.5em; } table.responsive-table td:empty { display: none; } table.responsive-table td:first-child { font-size: 1.1em; font-weight: bold; } table.responsive-table td:first-child:before { content: ""; } } </style> <table class="responsive-table"> <thead> <th class="text responsive-th">City</th> <th class="number responsive-th">Percent living with family or spouse</th> <th class="number responsive-th">Percent living alone</th> <th class="number responsive-th">Percent living with roommate(s)</th> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td class="text" data-title="City">Boston</td> <td class="number" data-title="Percent living with family or spouse">11.50%</td> <td class="number" data-title="Percent living alone">11.60%</td> <td class="number" data-title="Percent living with roommate(s)">11.40%</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="text" data-title="City">Brookline</td> <td class="number" data-title="Percent living with family or spouse">9.30%</td> <td class="number" data-title="Percent living alone">10.50%</td> <td class="number" data-title="Percent living with roommate(s)">10.20%</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="text" data-title="City">Cambridge</td> <td class="number" data-title="Percent living with family or spouse">10.70%</td> <td class="number" data-title="Percent living alone">13.30%</td> <td class="number" data-title="Percent living with roommate(s)">13.60%</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="text" data-title="City">Somerville</td> <td class="number" data-title="Percent living with family or spouse">13.70%</td> <td class="number" data-title="Percent living alone">9.40%</td> <td class="number" data-title="Percent living with roommate(s)">18.70%</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <div class="figcaption"> <p class="source">DATA: 2012 US Census<br/>Note: Percent living with roommate(s) is the percent of non-family households in which the residents do not live alone.</p> <P class="credit"></P> </div>

‘A city that sleeps’

Anush Elbakyan/Globe Staff

Matthew O’Brien, 23, Allston

Born, raised, and educated in Greater Boston, Matthew O’Brien said he itches for something new.

He wants a new place, a bigger place, maybe even a place that doesn’t shut down at 2 a.m. At least for now.

“Boston’s definitely a place I’d want to come back to when I’m 30 and want to settle down a little more,” the 23-year-old Boston University student said.

O’Brien feels the constraints of being young in a city with a historically conservative take on nightlife. There are no happy hours, limited transportation after a certain hour, and only a finite number of liquor licenses.

“It is a city that sleeps,” O’Brien said. “I think that’s slowly, slowly changing.”

Rising rents force hard decisions

Anush Elbakyan/Globe Staff

Noelle Janka, 29, Jamaica Plain

Noelle Janka lived in seven cities in 18 months before moving to Boston. She came for a job, which she lost three months later, but she didn’t want to move again.

“I really liked the idea of having everything a city could offer in a really small city,” Janka said.

She moved to Jamaica Plain, where she was taken by the sense of community in the quiet Boston neighborhood.

“Everyone knows their neighbors, everyone talks to one another, and it’s just really special,” she said. “I don’t think I could find that in most cities in America.”

Six years later, the 29-year-old is faced with a cruel reality: She is getting priced out of her neighborhood.

Since 2011, rents in Jamaica Plain have seen a steep increase. In November 2011, an apartment in the neighborhood could be rented for about $1,600. In September, the median monthly rent had increased by nearly $1,000, according to Zillow.com.

“The price of apartments has gotten really tough for a lot of people,” Janka said. “I guess I will start looking outside the city [if I can no longer afford JP].”

Luke Knox of Globe staff contributed graphics for this report. Globe correspondents Kyle Plantz, Margaret Quick, and Lauren Spencer, and Andrew Ba Tran of Globe staff researched data for the graphics. Catherine Cloutier can be reached at catherine.cloutier@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @cmcloutier.