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New Hampshire’s Changing Age Structure

New Hampshire is growing older. The ranks of adults in their 50s, 60s, and 70s has expanded substantially over the past 15 years, reflecting the aging of its large baby boom population (Figure 8). In contrast, both the cohorts of children (0-19) and their parents (30-49) diminished. The population age 20-29 grew modestly, in part because the large birth cohorts of the early 1990s are now in their 20s. 

Figure 8. Population change in New Hampshire by age, 2000-2015

Because New Hampshire’s age structure has significant long-term policy implications, it is important to examine it (Figure 9). 

One important consideration for policymakers is that the number of older adults will increase rapidly in the next two decades. In 2015, the two large baby boom cohorts in their 50s (219,000 residents) and the two in their 60s (170,000 residents) represented nearly 30 percent of New Hampshire’s population. These cohorts were considerably larger than the population age 70-79 in 2015. Although mortality and migration will modestly diminish these baby boom cohorts over the next few years, the vast majority will celebrate their 70th birthdays in New Hampshire. As a result, the state’s older population will more than double over the next 20 years. 

Figure 9. Age structure of population in New Hampshire, 2015

In contrast, the cohorts that were age 25-44 in 2015 comprise considerably fewer people, primarily because of the lower birth rates of the 1970s and 1980s. As the large baby boom cohorts continue to disengage from the labor force, New Hampshire is likely to face significant challenges maintaining a labor force of sufficient size to support a growing economy unless the existing population is supplemented by additional migration.

These age-structure shifts are not occurring evenly across the state. Northern and central New Hampshire have a substantially larger proportion of residents age 65 and over than do other parts of the state (Map 2). Much of this pattern is a function of aging in place among current residents of these regions, coupled with a continuing loss of young adults. In some areas there has also been an inflow of older migrants. In these regions, local governments and organizations are the first to confront the challenge of an aging population. However, although the proportion of older adults is larger in the north, the vast majority of older adults reside in southern and central New Hampshire. In contrast, children represent a significantly larger part of the population in southeastern New Hampshire, both proportionally and in absolute numbers (Map 3); the largest concentrations reside near the Massachusetts border. Because this region represents the outer edge of the Boston suburbs and includes Manchester, Nashua, and the Seacoast region, it attracts and retains a significant family-age population. Here, funding school construction and expansion is likely to be a matter of more immediate concern than in the northern areas of the state.

Map 2. Percent of population age 65 and older, 2016

Map 3. Percent of population younger than age 18, 2016

Aging in place is the most powerful influence on New Hampshire’s age structure, but it is not the only factor. The age structure is also influenced by the age-specific migration streams into the state, and in this regard, there are contrasts between the era of the Great Recession and more recent years. Historically, New Hampshire has received significant net inflows of people in their 30s and 40s together with their children, and it has received modest inflows of older adults. Migration patterns among those in their 20s have been uneven, however; indeed, the state lost modest numbers of 20-29-year-olds during the 1990s and 2000s.

As we have seen, New Hampshire recently began to receive a significant net inflow of people from other U.S. states. Compared to the recessionary and post-recessionary period of 2008-2012, the increase was greatest among those in their 20s, for whom migration gains averaged 1,200 a year between 2013 and 2017 compared to an average loss of 1,500 annually from 2008 to 2012 (Figure 10). Among those in their 30s, the net annual migration gain nearly doubled during the same period, while the net inflow of those age 40-49 diminished slightly. As more family-age adults migrated to New Hampshire again, their children fueled a significant net influx of those under age 20. These recent domestic migration gains are modest compared to earlier time periods, but they contrast with those during the time of the Great Recession. (Note that these data are based on Census Bureau estimates and as such should be viewed with caution; a definitive analysis of age-specific migration patterns to the state will not be possible until the results of the 2020 Census are available for analysis).

Figure 10. New Hampshire annual net domestic migration by age, 2008-2017

Migration is important to New Hampshire’s future because it brings in younger people of working age at a time when the state’s workforce is aging. Moreover, in-migrants to New Hampshire have been better educated than those leaving and thus increase the state’s store of intellectual capital. Between 2013 and 2017, approximately 16,000 individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher moved to the state annually (Figure 11), while roughly 11,500 individuals with similar academic credentials moved out. Even during the worst of the recession, New Hampshire had a net gain of migrants with a college degree or more, but the state’s gain has accelerated in the post-recessionary period. 

Figure 11. Migration by educational attainment in New Hampshire, 2006-2010 and 2013-2017

Relatively high education credentials characterize both U.S.-born and foreign-born migrants to the state. Compared to New Hampshire-born residents, both migrant groups are more likely to have a college degree and are nearly twice as likely to have a graduate degree (Figure 12). Thus, the recent upturn in migration to the state brings more talented migrants to a state concerned about its aging labor force.

Figure 12. Educational attainment of New Hampshire residents age 25 and older by place of birth 

Recent New Hampshire Diversity Trends

Though New Hampshire is one of the nation’s least diverse states, diversity is growing. Nationally the non-Hispanic white population declined from 69.1 percent to 60.6 percent, a drop of 8.5 percentage points, between 2000 and 2017. In New Hampshire the share dropped from 95.1 percent to 90.3 percent, a decline of 4.8 percentage points that was only about half the national drop and one of the smallest drops in the country. Thus, though the relatively small minority population doubled from 61,600 in 2000 to 130,000 in 2017 and accounted for two-thirds of the small increase in the entire population, the impact on the overall makeup of the state was small relative to other states. 

Hispanics are the largest minority population in New Hampshire with 50,300 residents, or 3.7 percent of the population. The Asian population is 35,600 (2.7 percent), and African Americans number 18,000 (1.3 percent). Each of these three groups nearly doubled in size between 2000 and 2017. Other minority groups, including Native Americans and those of multiple races, make up the remaining 1.7 percent of New Hampshire’s population. 

Children are in the vanguard of the state’s growing diversity, due predominantly to the decline in births among non-Hispanic whites. In all, 14 percent of New Hampshire’s children belonged to a minority population in 2016 (Figure 13), with Hispanics, Asians, and those of two or more races representing the largest share. The greater diversity among children is the result of two diverging trends. First, the minority child population grew by 16,900 between 2000 and 2016, and, second, the white youth population declined by 65,900. Because the minority youth gain was not sufficient to offset the white loss, New Hampshire’s child population declined by 49,000. 

Figure 13. New Hampshire population by race and Hispanic origin, 2016

The proportion of the adult population that is minority is considerably smaller than among children. In 2016, roughly 8 percent of the population over 18 in New Hampshire belonged to a minority group. Hispanics were the largest of these groups, followed by Asians and African Americans. As we look to the future, the proportion of New Hampshire’s population that is minority will likely continue to grow, for several reasons. For one, 18.1 percent of the white population is over age 65, compared to 6.5 percent of the minority population. Since mortality rates are higher for older adults, the high proportion of older whites will mean higher numbers of white deaths than minority deaths in the future. For another, only 23.7 percent of white women are of prime child-bearing age (20-39) compared to 31.6 percent of minority women. Though there are far fewer minority women than white women in New Hampshire, the larger proportion of minority women of prime child-bearing age increases the proportion of minority births. Diversity is geographically uneven in New Hampshire. Large areas of the state have little diversity, but minority people represent a significant part of the population in the Concord-Manchester-Nashua urban corridor as well as in the Hanover-Lebanon region and in a few areas of the Seacoast. This is especially true among the child population. In Manchester and Nashua, more than 30 percent of children are minority. 

Conclusion

The future economic and social well-being of New Hampshire and its communities depends on our ability to anticipate change and respond appropriately. Though New Hampshire is a relatively small player on the nation’s huge demographic stage, there is much to learn from an analysis of the way the state’s population is growing and changing. The purpose of this demographic analysis is to inform policy and to contribute to the efforts of policymakers, planners, nonprofits, and businesses to consider the future needs of New Hampshire’s people, institutions, and organizations in ways that will allow the state to continue to grow, prosper, and be a good place to live and raise families.

Throughout this section, we rely on various sources of survey-based data. Readers should be cautious when comparing estimates between groups or time periods because these surveys are asked of a sample of the population, rather than the total population. Although some estimates may appear different from one another, it is possible that any difference is due to sampling error. Further, in some cases very small differences may be statistically significant due to the large sample size of certain surveys. While it is not realistic to provide statistical testing results for each possible comparison that readers might make, we focus on differences that are substantively meaningful and statistically significant in the text.