Shifts in aging populations affect communities; check data for your state

Which region of the country is aging most rapidly? It’s New England, where all six states appear on the list of the top 10 oldest states in the nation, ranked by the median age of the population in 2010.

Oldest States in the U.S. Median Age
Maine** 42.7 years
Vermont** 41.5 years
New Hampshire ** 41.3 years
West Virginia 41.2 years
Florida 40.7 years
Pennsylvania 40.2 years
Montana 40.1 years
Connecticut** 40.0 years
Rhode Island** 39.6 years
Massachusetts** 39.1 years
** New England state

By contrast, the median age stands at 37.2 nationally and at 29.2 years in the youngest state, Utah.

I compiled this list after looking at a recent item on seacoastonline.com and deciding to run the numbers myself at the Census Bureau website. Although my data differs slightly from the information included in that story, the findings are essentially the same.

(Seacoastonline.com is a Web news site sponsored by the Portsmouth Herald, Exeter News-Letter, and Hampton Union, all of New Hampshire, and York County Coast Star and York Weekly, of Maine.)

“The biggest factors are the low birth rate here and the out-migration of young families looking for opportunities,” said Jim Breece, an economist at the University of Maine, quoted in the seacoastoneline.com report.

Breece’s observation is important: States where economic opportunities are few and far between are more likely to experience a departure of younger adults, leaving behind an older population and an altered economic climate.

The extent of immigration can also affect the age distribution of a state’s population insofar as many immigrants tend to be younger adults and families. Immigration is more common in other regions of the country than it is in New England.

Core Topics
Health Reform
Aging
Other Topics

Still another factor in a state’s age is its appeal to retirees. New England draws significant numbers of people who have finished working and are interested in moving to locations with historic communities, good health care, educational opportunities and cultural amenities.

On the other end of the age spectrum, the population of children is shrinking in several states; across New England, there were 200,000 fewer children in 2010 than a decade earlier.

“There isn’t enough affordable housing for young adults in the seacoast area,” Peter Francese, a Maine demographer, told seascoastonline. “Another reason is individual towns in New England do not like or want children because most property taxes go towards education.”

What’s the situation in your state? Has the median age of the population changed significantly over the past five or 10 years? If so, which factors are fueling the trend, according to local demographers?

Get the data for your area

To get the data for all the states, go to census.gov. At the top, you’ll see six tabs. Hover over “Data” and select American FactFinder, the second option on the list that comes up.

In the box called “Topic or table name” that comes up on the next page, enter “median age.” Another page will come up with a list starting with “B01002, median age by sex.” Choose that first option and then hit the “Go” button.

Now, go over to the left side of the same page and click on “Geographies.” Another box will come up called “Select a geographic type.” Click on the arrow and choose “State.” Again, a new box will come up on a new page. Below the box with “State” selected, you’ll see “Select one or more geographic areas and click Add to Your Selections.” Go to the lower box and click on “All states within the United States.” Then, click the button at the bottom, “Add to your selections.”

Now, close that mini-screen. You’ll still be on the page that lists all the reports related to median age. Click on the title of the first one, “B01002, median age by sex.” At this point, the state-by-state information you’ve been seeking will come up. If you want to rearrange the information – with the states going down the side – click on “Modify table” and choose “Transpose rows/columns.” Happy searching!

(For more on using American FactFinder for health reporting, see this tip sheet by Frank Bass.)

Judith GrahamJudith Graham (@judith_graham), AHCJ’s topic leader on aging, is writing blog posts, editing tip sheets and articles and gathering resources to help our members cover the many issues around our aging society. If you have questions or suggestions for future resources on the topic, please send them to judith@healthjournalism.org.

Leave a Reply