Posted tagged ‘population’

“But NH Isn’t Dead”

November 17, 2016

There is a scene from the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” where a wagon stacked with bodies is being pulled through a plague infested medieval village while a crier calls out “bring out your dead.”  The comedy in that grim scene comes when a man tries to load a body slung over his shoulder onto the wagon and against the protests of the still quite alive “dead man” who says such things as “but I’m not dead,” I’m feeling better,” and “I think I will go for a walk.” I am reminded of that movie scene every time I hear proclamations about NH being the 1st or 2nd oldest state in the nation.

An excellent radio program in NH (especially  when I am guest – I wasn’t on this broadcast) recently spent an hour discussing the implications of NH being “the second oldest state in the nation.” The operational definition of “second oldest state” was never given but I assume it is based on the median age of the state’s population.  Using 5 year Census Bureau estimates (2010-14) NH has the third highest median age of any state in the nation (collective gasp here), behind only Maine and Vermont.

median-age

Before administering the sacrament of the anointing of the sick to New Hampshire, however, understand that a state’s median age says relatively little about the age distribution of a population and even less about the demographic and public policy challenges (and their severity) that a state will confront in the future.  Does NH’s high median age really mean our state is worse off demographically than 47 other states?

First, a high median age doesn’t mean NH has a disproportionate number of elderly residents.  It does mean, and has for some time, that NH has a high percentage of residents in the middle of the age distribution and fewer at early ages. As the chart below shows, on the percentage of the population age 65+, NH ranks 15th among all states and below many states with a lower median age.

age-65

Second as I argued here, if you want to understand the strains that an older demographic may place on the fiscal system of a state or a nation you need to look at the “old age dependency ratio,” or the number of older residents in relation to the number of working-age residents because that is a measure of the population that will largely be paying for or supporting the services for the older population.  There will be more elderly in NH and that will increase service needs but the fiscal pressures those needs place on the state is a function of both the number in need of services and the number of working age individuals supporting the services (that is why China’s “one-child” policy that results in  four grandparents, two parents, and one child was always a demographic ponzi scheme).   The old-age dependency ratio is rising in NH but again, on that metric, NH hardly looks  that much worse off than most states as it is firmly in the middle of all states on the ratio of residents age 65+ to working age residents.  In addition, because NH has relatively healthier and more well-off older residents compared to many states, our dependency ratio probably slightly overstates the challenge the old-age dependency ratio presents to the state. With NH’s lowest in the nation birth rates the old-age dependency ratio could rise rapidly depending on migration trends (as has been the case in recent years) and is one more reason to want to make our state broadly appealing to demographic groups.

dependency-ratio

NH does face significant demographic challenges and if overstating their magnitude is necessary for action to address them then I guess I can live with that.  But too often the discussions of the demographic challenges facing NH are laced with agenda driven diagnoses and  prescriptions that make for great headlines but ineffective policies.

Low birth rates (NH now has the lowest in the nation) resulting from high labor force participation and levels of educational attainment among women in NH (a sign of our state’s successes not our failures) along with low mortality rates among an older population that is both healthier and wealthier (on average) than in most states, is a recipe for a higher median age in a state.  That is unless median age can be made more stationary through the in-migration of younger residents, or as NH has traditionally done, in-migration of residents more in the middle of the age distribution along with their children.  That was exactly NH’s recipe for success for decades even as young people have left the state (a decades long trend in NH), at least until net state-to-state migration slowed in NH, just as it has been slowing nationally for some time.   Between 2010 and 2015, the Census Bureau estimates that about 5,500 more NH residents moved out-of-state than residents of other states moved in, with about 6,700 more moving out of Hillsborough County than moved in, while about 4,500 more residents moved into Rockingham and Strafford Counties than moved out during that time.  The graphic below disputes the notion that NH is no longer a place that people want to locate, they are just being more selective in where they choose to locate in the state.  Examining the differences in population growth and demographic changes among individual communities within these counties  further suggests some of the factors that can contribute to in-migration and inform public policies that seek to address NH’s demographic challenges.  Not all communities experienced the growth or decline in migration characteristic of their counties.  Understanding why  is important to the future of our state and its communities.  It is more than just nearby job opportunities or Hillsborough County would not have seen so much out-migration.  I have written about some of the factors in prior blog posts.

county-migration

Many communities are aging more slowly than the state as a whole and their experiences are illustrative of some of the factors and actions that can influence the age structure of a state or a community. Yet policy discussions about demographics at the state level typically overlook positive demographic trends in many communities in the state.  Below is a chart that highlights how the median age has changed over two decades in just a few NH communities.  The chart shows the median age of each community in 1990, and then incrementally adds how much the median age has changed in each of the following two decades.  There was relatively little difference in the median age of each community’s population in 1990, but especially in the 2000 to 2010 decade, the rate of change in median age varied significantly among the communities.  Communities such as Portsmouth, which had a relatively high median age until 2000, slowed its rate of “aging” dramatically in the 2000s, as did Dover and Manchester, albeit for different reasons and with different demographics.

community-median-age

The point is that if some regions and some communities in NH can rage against the dying of the light, others and maybe even the state as a whole, can as well.  So, while many want to heap NH onto a metaphorical “death wagon,” let me say “but NH is not dead, I think we should go for a walk today”.

Advertisements

Demographic Demise – The Sequel

June 17, 2013

Those well known demographers at Governing Magazine are likely to ignite another round of hysteria about NH’s aging population with their recent article highlighting increases in the median age of state populations.  I do not plan to go “gently into that good night” and for the past decade, as I hurtle toward my dotage,  I have “raged against the dying of the light” by highlighting why, at least in NH’s case, demographic trends are far less apocalyptic than popularly portrayed.

I can’t say it enough, I  believe that demographics explain two-thirds of everything.  Current trends will present the U.S. and NH with many challenges but we will be infinitely better able to confront these challenges with an accurate understanding of the forces that are creating them.  Too often demographic data is tortured to yield conclusions in support of some issue or cause rather than analyzed to reveal the real underlying  forces affecting the economy and society.  If we think the state’s population is aging because of zoning restrictions or because contraceptives are too widely available,  or because there aren’t enough skateboard parks or coffee shops then policies designed to manage the changes resulting from demographic forces are going to be profoundly ineffective.

I first made the arguments below  about a decade ago and despite the protestations of those who have horror stories to tell and books and documentaries to sell, nobody has shown why they are inaccurate.

Aging is a permanent, irreversible consequence of low average family size and longer life expectancies in developed societies.  Because NH has both wealthier and healthier older citizens (on average) than does the US, we expect greater longevity.  NH also has among the lowest fertility rates of any state in the nation and this, more than anything, accounts for our increasing median age relative to the US.  The chart below shows how much lower and how much faster the fertility rate among women of child bearing years has been declining in NH compared to the U.S. average, along with how much lower NH’s mortality rate is than is the U.S. rate.

Fertility and mortality trendsUnlike the brother and son of former U.S. presidents I don’t know anything about how fertile women of different races or ethnic origins are but I am probably just as prone to putting my foot in my mouth, so here goes:  “Fertility rates,”  or the number of births per 1,000 women in child bearing years does vary  by the educational attainment, labor force status, and as is evident in the state of Utah, even the religious beliefs of women and their partners.  Fertility rates largely account for NH’s rising median age, just as they do for Vermont and Maine.  Fertility almost always has a more powerful effect on the age structure of a state’s population than does either migration or mortality because all of the population changes that it generates arise at age zero and work their way through the age structure for 70+ years.  The chart below shows how much lower is NH’s fertility rate among women age 15-44 than is the rate in most other states in the nation.  The chart also largely explains why Utah has the youngest median age of any state and why NH, VT, ME and other New England states have older median age populations.

State Fertility RatesWomen in NH (as well as in most New England states) have higher educational attainment (on average) and are more likely to be in the labor force than are women overall in the U.S..  Both of these factors are associated with lower birth rates. Much of NH’s increase in college educated workers is the result increases among women and this has produced substantial economic benefits for the state and its residents.

For two decades NH has added large numbers of families with children and lost younger people who attend college or otherwise leave the state in young adulthood.   In recent years a weak economy and a housing market that made it difficult to both sell and buy a house has greatly curtailed migration into NH.  Mover’s to NH over the past several decades are more likely to be a married couple family age 30-44 with children and  likely to both be college educated and working.  That demographic doesn’t do a lot to lower the median age of a population but it can help keep the median age stationary in the middle of the age range.  However, economic conditions not only have curtailed state-to-state migration, they have also lowered fertility rates, as income and employment trends appear to have given  pause to more families considering expansion.   Across the nation state-to-state migration has been lower than at any time in a half century and fertility rates started to decline in the U.S. (after rising in a few consecutive years) as the last recession took hold. 

The long-term trend in NH is for a gradually increasing median age that should be rising at about the same rate as the much of the U.S..  The state is not even close to the top among state on the percentage of its population age 65 or older and that fact alone should eliminate some of the more simplistic explanations for why NH’s median age has been rising faster than the U.S..  Because of our low fertility and mortality rates, NH is more dependent upon in-migration to offset trends that would produce more rapid increases in median age than seen in much of the country.  Over the past several years those migration trends haven’t been favorable.  If the economy and housing markets recovery continue and NH focuses on the right policies (hint – zoning regulations aren’t it) this should be a temporary  phenomenon, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to get any older, it just means that we can keep the median age at a more stationary point in the middle of the age distribution.  The middle has gotten a pretty bad name in recent years, but demographically at least, its not at all a bad place to be.


%d bloggers like this: