Is samatha meditation more suited to lay people than vipassana?
From Pali Canon it does not seem that Buddha ever taught "samatha meditation" and "vipassana meditation" as two distinct and separate meditation techniques. This seems to be a later generalization. What Buddha taught is meditation that has two aspects of "calming down" and "understanding" - to use simple words.
Both "calming down" and "understanding" are correlates and manifestations of Liberation of Mind. Indeed, in order for the mind to calm down it has to liberate itself from emotions, obsessions, attachments and other mental activity that feeds the vicious circle of disturbed mind. The more you liberate, the better you can see into the nature of the mind and understand how it works. The more you understand how mind works, the more you liberate from its pitfalls, the more you calm down.
The unique Buddhist twist is using "feeling good" as a factor of "calming down", and using "being good" (behavior-wise) as a factor of "feeling good". So the whole thing works as a multi-threaded helix, the factors of "virtue", "skill", "joy", "calming down", "understanding", and "liberation" penetrating and supporting each other. The "piti" in Piti Sutta is a nod to factors of "being good" and "feeling good" playing an important role in this process.
Regarding lay people having to start from "calming down" or from "understanding" - it depends. Both at ancient times and now, lay people are usually pretty caught up in the drama of life. Their minds are almost completely obsessed by solving problems and pursuing goals that they think are important, due to their attachments. This makes it very hard for lay people to understand something as profound as Emptiness. In modern days though, people are expecting to start from theory and then go to practice. Modern people almost can't do it, until they understand how it works. So for modern student of Dharma, getting some basic "understanding" is critical for engaging with practice of "liberation".
Again, all of this has nothing to do with so-called "samatha" and "vipassana" as they came to be understood in modern times. In my experience, a good Buddhist teacher intuitively assesses the student, probing into both emotional and conceptual obscurations, and gives a mixture of instruction - some conceptual aimed at understanding and some behavioral aimed at liberation. It's never one or the other, it's always both. Or all four/six/twelve/etc depending how you count.