Young people define Boston.

Twentysomethings make up a fifth of the city’s population — more than any major US city — and fuel its economy. They work, dine, and drink here. They dream.

In 2018, I moved to Boston with that typical ambition and came of age in the years that followed. I earned my first paycheck, signed my first lease, and ordered my first cocktail, a stiff rum and coke at the Tam. I lounged on the rooftop of a friend’s Beacon Hill apartment and took in the immensity of the city from Piers Park, peering at the skyline from across the harbor.

But soon after college, when I decided to build my life along the Blue Line with an apartment in Eastie and a job downtown, I looked around and felt like every young person I knew was trying to leave Boston — if they hadn’t already. And I wondered, what is driving people away?

The question led to a lot of conversations. Over six months, I talked to 25 Bostonians under 25 across the spectrum of race and income, all either past college or having never attended. Some are patching together a living with multiple gigs; others launched careers in technology and education, arts and advocacy. I asked them how much money they spend and save. What they one day hope to buy. When they would like to retire. At the end of the conversation, I broached the biggest question of all: Do you see a sustainable future for yourself in Boston?

Nearly everyone said no.

It’s not a coincidence. Part of the exodus can be attributed to the pandemic and the usual ebb and flow of students and footloose young people from the city. But many agreed that the soaring cost of living here is a major factor.

Baby boomers and Gen Xers benefited from economic conditions that do not exist for millennials. And by many measures, the path ahead for Gen Z, born between 1997 and 2012, is even more fraught.

In the vignettes below, eight people in this age group laid out the burden of a life in Boston, and its impact on financial milestones for housing, savings, and debt.

They feel like — I feel like — Boston is working against us, rather than with us. That merely surviving here forces you to navigate a maze of obstacles. That thriving is not an option. And in that resistance, one person told me, “the city is telling us who it is:” a place of cultural and academic prowess, of history and of innovation, inhospitable to the very people who bring so much of its energy.


  • Reporter: Diti Kohli
  • Editors: Tim Logan, Andrew Caffrey
  • Photographers: Barry Chin, Lane Turner, David L Ryan, John Tlumacki, Suzanne Kreiter, and Craig F. Walker
  • Photo editors: Leanne Burden Seidel and William Greene
  • Digital editor: Christina Prignano
  • Design: Ryan Huddle
  • Development: Daigo Fujiwara
  • Copy editing: Mary Creane
  • Digital producer: Dana Gerber
  • Audio producer: Jesse Remedios
  • Audience engagement: Cecilia Mazanec and Jenna Reyes
  • Quality assurance: Nalini Dokula