Equity and Innovation Report

Chapter 4: Cambridge Close-Up

The Haitian folkloric dance company Jean Appolon Expressions in Starlight Square. (Photo by Lou Jones)

The Haitian folkloric dance company Jean Appolon Expressions in Starlight Square. (Photo by Lou Jones)

This fine-grained view of Cambridge reveals the impact of far-reaching economic change, as an old city dominated by venerable educational institutions becomes a new city with a cutting-edge economic base. In the case of Cambridge, the new has emerged from the old, with higher education in science, engineering, and advanced technology giving birth to industries that attract an increasingly young, mobile, and highly educated workforce. The ripples of this economic change can be felt well beyond the workplace, in the areas of income, housing affordability, racial makeup, and educational attainment.

Key Takeaways
20%

of all income went to the top 5% of households

56%

of renters in the first quintile spend half of their income on rent

42%

in the middle quintile are between 25 and 34

Income

Among the most striking findings of this report are the income differences that mark Cambridge today. While the highest-income quintile accounts for 51 percent of the total earned income in the city, the lowest-income quintile shares just 2.2 percent of the city’s total earned income. With an average income of $13,280, households in the first quintile earn nearly $330,000 less than households in the top quintile, which have an average income of $343,190.

Chart 4.1: Share of Aggregate Income by Quintile, 2018

20% of all income went to the top 5% of households.

Chart 4.2: Average Household Income by Quintile, 2009 and 2018

The second, middle, and fourth quintiles had the largest increase in household income.

“We need to reinvest in local art and local communities around art. Cambridge always was vibrant and had a bit of an edge to it. It has this feeling of possibility. A lot of collaboration and a lot of art is happening in this small space.”
— Jackie O’Riley, Dancer

Age Groups

The quintiles reveal details of the “new Cambridge,” a place with a booming millennial population, a stagnant and falling under-18 population, a mature adult workforce that tends toward the upper tiers, and an elder population divided into those with income and those without.

  • More children today reside in wealthier households than a decade ago: More than 30 percent of Cambridge’s children live in the top quintile of households, compared with 24.5 percent in 2009. At the same time, the share of children in the bottom tier fell from 20 percent to 15.7 percent. Just under 14 percent live in the middle tier, a proportion unchanged over the decade.
  • The young-adult workforce comprises the middle and upper quintiles: Over 40 percent of the middle quintile is between the ages of 25 and 34.
  • Seniors are highly polarized: Roughly a quarter of Cambridge residents 65 and older are in the highest-income quintile, while more than 30 percent are in the lowest, up from 25 percent of seniors a decade ago.

Chart 4.3: Quintiles by Age, 2009

Chart 4.4: Quintiles by Age, 2018

42% in the middle quintile are between 25 and 34

Chart 4.3: Quintiles by Age, 2009

Chart 4.4: Quintiles by Age, 2018

42% in the middle quintile are between 25 and 34

Race and Ethnicity

Race and ethnicity are highly correlated with income in Cambridge. People of color comprise almost 60 percent of the population in the lowest-income quintile and just 26 percent in the highest. And while Cambridge has become more diverse within every quintile, the change has not been uniform.

  • The Asian population makes up a larger share of the top and middle quintiles today than a decade ago, increasing to nearly 13 percent of the top from 7.7 percent, and to 17 percent of the middle, from 8.8 percent.
  • The Latinx population became both a larger share of the middle quintile, rising from 6.7 percent to 10.5 percent, and a larger share of the lowest-income quintile, increasing from 10 percent to 14 percent.
  • The Black population has become a larger share of the lowest two quintiles. In fact, nearly 40 percent of the entire Black population in Cambridge now lives in the bottom quintile of households.

Chart 4.5: Quintiles by Race/Ethnicity, 2009

Chart 4.6: Quintiles by Race/Ethnicity, 2018

20% of the top quintile are people of color.

Chart 4.5: Quintiles by Race/Ethnicity, 2009

Chart 4.6: Quintiles by Race/Ethnicity, 2018

20% of the top quintile are people of color.

Household Types

The types of households and families vary widely across the quintiles, with individuals living alone clustered in the two lowest-income quintiles; nonfamily households, including unmarried partners and adult roommates, living in the middle tier; and traditional “nuclear families” clustered at the top.

  • More than 65 percent of all households in the first quintile and half of those in the second quintile are individuals living alone, whereas more than 60 percent of households in the top quintile are married couples.
  • In the middle and fourth quintiles, nearly a third of all households are nonfamily groups living together or married couples without children.
  • The majority of children live in the top tier, and there are stark economic differences in family types over the five groupings. More than a third of all single-parent families with children live in the lowest-income quintile, while more than 40 percent of married-couple families with children live in the highest-income quintile.

Chart 4.7: Quintiles by Household Type, 2009

Chart 4.8: Quintiles by Household Type, 2018

29% of the middle and fourth quintiles are multiperson, nonfamily roommates.

Chart 4.7: Quintiles by Household Type, 2009

Chart 4.8: Quintiles by Household Type, 2018

29% of the middle and fourth quintiles are multiperson, nonfamily roommates.

Chart 4.9: Households with Kids by Quintile, 2018

1 in 3 single parents with kids live in the first quintile.

Chart 4.10: Quintiles by Tenure, 2009

Chart 4.11: Quintiles by Tenure, 2018

There are more high-income renters in the fourth and top quintiles than a decade ago.

Chart 4.10: Quintiles by Tenure, 2009

Chart 4.11: Quintiles by Tenure, 2018

There are more high-income renters in the fourth and top quintiles than a decade ago.

Housing and Community

More than half of all households in the lowest-income quintile spend 50 percent or more of their income on housing. In a city dominated by renters, the top quintile stands out as majority homeowners. At least two-thirds of those in the bottom 80 percent of households are renters, compared with just 37 percent in the top quintile. While small, this is a higher share than a decade ago, when just a quarter were renters, indicating that there are now more high-income renters living in Cambridge. At the same time, the second quintile has the highest share of households that own their home outright — nearly 17 percent — suggesting that while these households may be cash poor, they have some wealth in the form of assets.

Cambridge has a notoriously high cost of living, which is reflected in the level of housing cost burden among lower-income households. Virtually all renters and homeowners in the two lowest-income quintiles are considered housing cost–burdened in that they are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. This includes more than half of the households in the lowest-income quintile, which are extremely cost-burdened and spend more than half of their income on housing. By contrast, almost no households in the top two quintiles are housing cost-burdened.

Chart 4.12: Housing Cost-Burden by Tenure, 2009

Chart 4.13: Housing Cost-Burden by Tenure, 2018

56% of renters in the first quintile spend half of their income on rent.

Chart 4.12: Housing Cost-Burden by Tenure, 2009

Chart 4.13: Housing Cost-Burden by Tenure, 2018

56% of renters in the first quintile spend half of their income on rent.