The nation’s aging population and corresponding wave of baby boomers nearing retirement age is an undeniable demographic phenomenon throughout much of the country.
There are, though, a few select areas that are not only bucking the trend, but actually appear to be getting younger. In each of these areas, there’s at least one primary driver shifting the demographics in the opposite direction.
For this story, Governing analyzed the Census Bureau’s recently-updated Current Population Estimates, calculating the change in median age between July 2010 and July 2012. A few larger regions stood out, recording slight median age declines over the two-year period.
In some cases, the arrival of young adults pushed down the median age, more than offsetting the effect of baby boomers growing older.
Still, the median age climbed in 40 states during the two-year period, led by New Hampshire, Maine, Utah and Vermont. Only four states and the District of Columbia recorded a decline.
The following five regions illustrate rare cases where the population, according to census estimates, appears to be getting younger:
District of Columbia
Fueled by an influx of young people, the District of Columbia is one of the few areas of the country where the aging population might not be clearly noticeable. D.C.’s median age decreased 0.2 years between 2010 and 2012.
Joy Phillips, associate director of the D.C. government’s State Data Center, points to working professionals ages 25 to 29 moving there to fill high-skill jobs. Employment opportunities, coupled with the district’s wide variety of attractions, lure young adults to the area.
“With the nightlife, arts and entertainment,” Phillips said, “it’s really becoming a similar place to New York City and California.”
In the past, many of these young adults eventually packed their bags and relocated to Virginia or Maryland as they started families. Phillips said she doesn’t see this playing out so much now, though. The District’s age 25-to-44 population increased 9.1 percent over the two-year period, compared to just 1.7 percent for the 45-to-64 age group.
What’s more, a high number of births is making D.C. younger. The District’s population under age 5 increased by more than 6,100 (about 19 percent) between 2010 and 2012.
At the same time, the District’s 65-and-over population still grew, albeit not as fast as younger age groups. Despite the high cost of living, Phillips said older residents commonly opt to live in the District’s senior villages and walkable communities.
Honolulu County also isn’t aging to the same degree as the rest of the country, but for reasons different than D.C. and others on this list.
Honolulu’s median age dropped 0.6 years between 2010 and 2012, the largest decrease among the most populous U.S. counties.
Eugene Tian, chief economist for the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, attributes the decline to international migration. The Census Bureau estimates the county’s net international migration was 7,670 from 2011 to 2012, while domestic migration declined by 3,471. Tian said a high percentage of the new residents from abroad were younger, falling into the 20-to-34 age bracket, which increased by nearly 19,000 over the two-year period.
Okaloosa County, Fla.
Regions boasting a large military presence see their demographics fluctuate significantly as bases gain or lose enlisted personnel and contractors. This is particularly true with the implementation of the most recent Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) recommendations, resulting in the closure of some bases.
One clear example is Florida’s Okaloosa County -- home to Eglin Air Force Base, one of the nation’s largest military installations.
As part of BRAC, Eglin added about 2,500 members of the 7th Special Forces Group, along with approximately 1,200 others enlisted in a different unit, said Andy Bourland, a public affairs director at the base.
And often accompanying mostly younger active duty personnel are their spouses and young children.
Okaloosa County's median age dropped an estimated 1.4 years during the two-year period, the steepest decline of any county with a population exceeding 100,000.
Other counties anchored by military bases recording notable drops in median age include Jefferson County, N.Y. (Fort Drum), Lowndes County, Ga. (Moody Air Force Base) and Muscogee County, Ga. (Fort Benning).
To illustrate just how much the demographics of North Dakota shifted in recent years, consider this: Of the top 25 counties nationally with the largest drop in the median age, twelve are found in the state.
The state’s overall median age has also declined, accordingly, from 37 years in 2010 to 36.1 years in 2012 – easily the largest decrease of any state. By comparison, New Hampshire saw its median age rise 0.8 years over the two-year period.
North Dakota’s oil boom continues to drive much of the state’s population gains. The tech sector, particularly in eastern region, also has created high-paying jobs that attract younger workers, some of whom may have originally left North Dakota for what they thought were greener pastures, said Paul Lucy, the state’s economic development and finance division director.
“There are a lot opportunities throughout the state,” Lucy said. “It’s not just in the west where the oil boom is taking place.”
The state’s unemployment rate (3.2 percent in May) remains the nation’s lowest.
North Dakota had historically struggled with outmigration as young college graduates left to pursue jobs elsewhere. But with more opportunities, Lucy believes that’s no longer case, and native North Dakotans seem to be staying.
Much like North Dakota, the Midland-Odessa corridor in western Texas continues to draw a steady stream of new workers.
Buoyed by the oil and natural gas industry, the region’s economy is clearly one of the nation’s strongest. The sector’s local monthly employment is up 15 percent from just last year, and the added jobs further support growth in other industries throughout the region.
With its expanded workforce, Midland County’s median age declined 0.9 years for the two-year period ending last July, trailing only Okaloosa County among counties with more than 100,000 residents. Neighboring Ector County, which includes Odessa, saw its median age decline 0.6 years.
Midland also topped the Census Bureau’s list of fastest-growing metro areas published earlier this year, while Odessa ranked fifth.
County Median Age Map
The following map shows changes in median age for counties, comparing 2010 Census estimates to July 2012 Current Population Estimates (slightly different than the data used in the above story). (Click to open full-screen interactive map in new window)
Counties recording either no change or a decline in median age are shown in brown. Please note that less populous counties have higher margins of error. So, for some counties, one shouldn't conclude whether the overall population is becoming younger.
For related coverage on aging, please refer to our Governing Generations series.
Photos: FlickrCC, David Kidd