I'm curious what age bracket you fall into? Most of my work is in a city, but I'm at an age where I want things the city can't provide (more space, a back yard, etc.) so some amount of commuting is unavoidable unless I change jobs along with a move.
Appliances and balconies are one thing - but a house and a yard are unobtainable in many urban environments.
I'm early 30s and still like the city, though that's still fairly young I suppose. I agree there are some lifestyle choices involved, though. I like outdoor space myself, but I don't personally feel a need for it to be my own private yard. It's more important to me to be near large parks, waterfront spaces, nice plazas, etc.
I'd say it's a fairly common preference here (Copenhagen) even for families, although some do prefer single-family homes with private yards. One difference in the urban architecture vs. NYC is that in the nicer neighborhoods, apartment buildings often have sizable private courtyards: the buildings are built on the edges of a large block, with a park left in the middle. That park may have playground equipment, BBQ equipment and picnic tables, etc., for the use of residents (also, off-street bike parking). I don't use it a lot, but families seem to.
Some of the buildings have quite active local communities as well, which some people like: dinner clubs where people will take turns hosting a dinner party (in the courtyard when it's nice, otherwise in an apartment), your kids can play with other kids in the building, you can leave them playing in the courtyard and someone else will watch them if you need to go somewhere briefly, etc.
I grew up in a suburb myself (about an hour outside of Chicago), and it was okay all around. But I think I might've preferred something a bit denser. One downside I recall is that everything was so far that someone below driving age ends up being very hampered in movement. I would have to bike 15-20 minutes just to get the houses of some friends who lived in what was considered my neighborhood. And many of my friends weren't reachable at all without adult assistance.
Not the parent poster, but I also live in an medium-density urban setting and obsess slightly over commute length. I'm in my mid-20s, which is probably the stereotypical age for someone in that living situation, but my neighborhood is age-diverse, and the lady next door to me is in her sixties and retired, and has less of a back yard than I do. I certainly think different people will have different lifestyles with different needs, but I'm generally skeptical of the idea that there's an age in which people need, for example, yard space, that they didn't need before... people can choose their own priorities regardless of age, and figure out how to make due without the lower-priority ones (maybe by learning to make better use of public green space instead of depending on a private yard).
My commute is ~15 minutes each direction on a bike. It's not uncommon for many of my suburb-dwelling coworkers to commute 45 minutes each way, which adds up to about two weeks' worth of waking-time days over the course of a year. Personally I don't think I'd see the value in having more outdoor space around my house if it meant having so much less time to spend there, and I don't see that attitude changing as I age.
Yeah, I guess correlating it to age maybe isn't the right metric. I guess in one sense, as you age you're potentially more-likely to have a larger family, requiring a larger living space to accomodate the additional bodies. Larger living spaces in a city will cost more, and a yard (or some form of property) provides a way to be at home without being on top of one another. But you're right - age isn't necessarily the right association for housing desires for everybody, and the lifestyles and family-lives of people are certainly varied.
This has a lot more to do with money than it does with age, especially in cities where there are neighborhoods in the center or near the center.
As for a yard, some of the richest billionaires in Manhattan don't have one. It's a matter of preference in which age isn't really a factor. Do you want a yard, or do you want floor-to-ceilng windows with a cityscape view? That's the choice in a select few cities like Manhattan, but in the majority of cities you definitely can get a yard very close to the center if that's what you value; it's just a matter of how wealthy you are.
Here in Houston, personally I don't know a single person who would prefer to live in Sugar Land (a suburb about 30 minutes out) over River Oaks (a very affluent neighborhood of gated mansions in the geographic center). But only the top executives, neurosurgeons, sports stars, etc., live in River Oaks because everyone else is priced out.
Some people value a yard and brick house so much that they commute in order to get it. Others buy high-rise condos and enjoy the panoramic views and central proximity. I haven't really observed much true correlation with age, though, with the high-rise condos. Apartments, yes, but expensive condos, no.
I'm in my mid 20's, and I'm definitely not at that point yet. Your mileage may vary. Regardless, I feel like commuting is still probably an important factor - but I absolutely believe that other things come into consideration over time.