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The Aging States of America

Jul 9, 2024 · 9 minutes to read

Will these be the oldest states by 2050 and 2100?

Aging States of America

Millennials are having fewer children. As they turn 40, just 30% of the cohort lives with a spouse and children, down 10% from just a generation before. That represents a 53% nosedive in birthrate compared to its high in 1960. Though most Americans are having fewer children, some states are getting older than others, faster. By 2050 and onward to 2100, which American states will look grayest?

America is looking its age. 

We wanted to see which states would go gray fastest. By 2050, and then 2100, when today’s Gen Z babies are centenarians and Generation Alpha toddlers are nursing home residents, where will they be? 

Here at BizInsure, we extrapolated the University of Virginia’s age projections over the next decades further forward in time. What did we find? By 2100, Maine will have the highest percentage of its population over 65 years of age — but all top ten states will have a higher percentage of their population over 65 than Japan does today.

Key Takeaways

    • New England is aging fastest, while states with high fertility rates (Utah, North Dakota, Louisiana, and Nebraska) may have larger families to keep their populations youngest.
    • Maine’s future looks grayest. By 2050, it’s #1 with 31.1% of its population at retirement age. By 2100, 45% of its population will be over 65 years old.
    • Who runs the country? The young! Washington, D.C.’s population will have just 13% over 65, up just 2% from its 2020 percentage.

 

Where Will the Nation’s Retirement Reside?

#10 Florida: Not a Retirement Haven?

Although Florida has a strong growth rate and a big retirement population, it won’t overtake other states for retirees as quickly as you might have guessed. That’s likely due to Florida’s popularity among out-of-state relocators and its status as the #3 US destination for immigrants. Along with its #20 fertility rate among all states, Florida is growing among all age groups.

#9 Delaware: Losing its Youth

Delaware may be able to boast a higher fertility rate than states like Florida, but its youngsters don’t always stay put as adults. In reality,  20% more young Delawareans move out of state today than did 100 years ago. What will happen 100 years from now? If trends don’t reverse, Delaware may find itself awash in oldies stations and pickleball courts.

#8 Hawaii: Isle of Retirees

Moving from 19% in 2020 to 24.8% in 2050 and finally 34.5% by 2100, paradise is getting crowded with retirees. And sure, Hawaii is known for its temperate weather and high prices, 2 factors that favor those with a passion for relaxation and a lifetime of wealth accumulation. Hawaii does have a top-20 fertility rate, but with a small population and little industry, this island state is aging fast.

#7 West Virginia: Falling from #3 in 2020 to to #7 in 2100

West Virginia struggles to offer its young people good jobs, so its headlines discuss the “struggle” to stay in-state, even for those career-starters who want to. While fertility is average among the states, it’s below the replacement rate (along with the rest of the country). A bigger issue is that West Virginia isn’t making up the difference with in-moves from other states or immigration.

#6 Nevada: With just 12% elderly in 2010, Nevada was the lowest rate to join 2100’s top ten

While Nevada is a warm and sunny retirement hotspot, its population over 65 totaled just 18% of its total population in 2020. That’s close to today’s 27th-place country (San Marino). In other words, it’s pretty average for a developed, Western country with low birth rates and long lifespans. In the future, Nevada will surge past every current country. It will support 24.5% elderly in 2050 and 36.7% in 2100.

#5 Arizona: 38% of its population will be 65+ by 2100

Arizona will have the 5th most elderly residents vis à vis total population by 2050, with 26.3% and 37.6% by 2100. To reverse the trend, Arizona will have to keep growing as a popular destination for businesses as well as golf fans. Arizona, with the nation’s 7th highest rate in 2020 at 19%, will climb 2 spaces in the charts by 2050 as it continues to grow its retiree population.

#4 New Mexico: Skyrocketing from #28 in 2010 to #4 in 2100

New Mexico’s fertility rate is low, but its growing elderly population (Over 40% of New Mexicans will be over 65 by 2100) also stems from out-migrating Millennials seeking better jobs. In one survey, 27 of the 39 young people interviewed planned to leave the state to further their careers. There’s an exception: the Permian Basin, which has seen the mining industry explode in recent years, has the lowest percentage of its population over 65.

#3 New Hampshire: The Largest Growth since 2010

New Hampshire will increase its elderly rate 30.4% between 2010 and 2100, putting it at #3 in our overall list. Adding more than 2x the current figure is sure to be a shock for a small state with a bottom-5 fertility rate. While migration is fueling New Hampshire’s population gain, the state will have to attract young people to support its aged.

#2 Vermont: Rural and Aging

Along with New Hampshire and Maine, Vermont is an unsurprising state on the top ten list. New England states aren’t known for their friendliness to young people: their homes can be large, rural, and expensive, with few urban hubs for jobs. That may be why, as Washington, D.C. gains the most college grad in-moves, Vermont loses more of its grads to other locals than any other state. 

#1 Maine: By 2100, nearly half of Mainers will be over 65

In 2100, 45% of Mainers will be over 65. Why? For starters, Maine has one of the lowest fertility rates in the country, at .5 births per woman. In general, that means that every other couple in Maine produces one child. As those 4 individuals age, just one young person steps into the workforce to replace their labor. If the current population trend continues, Maine will have to rely on immigration to reinforce its economy and support its elderly citizens.

D.C. is for Singles

Washington, D.C. is the leader in “brain gain” attracting college graduates at a much higher rate than any state, attracting 302% more grads than it loses. In fact, 50% of new movers to DC are in their 20s, and 80% are single. That makes for a young population if not one with a high fertility rate (it’s actually lower than any state).

It’s important to note that with this small urban district, we’re comparing apples to oranges. The District of Columbia is just one part of a larger metropolitan area, without exurbs, towns, or rural areas. And in D.C., that metropolitan vibe appeals to singles. Family starters and retirees alike can throw away the commute and relocate to suburban or even rural Maryland and Virginia, skewing the statistics in D.C.

Which States Will Be Home to the Highest and Lowest Percentage of Retirees in 2100?

The percentage of the population over 65 continues to rise in all states. But it’s most stark in the Northeast where the highest proportion of the population will be retirees by 2100. In New Hampshire and Maine, the 2100 retiree population is a 30% jump from 2010, and in Vermont, retirees will jump 29%. 

By contrast, some states are only inching toward a silver society.

Notably, 34 US states plus the District of Columbia will have an aging population under Japan’s current 30% elderly percentage — even in 2100.

Those devoting the smallest percentages of their populations to retirees include states like Utah, which has the 4th highest fertility rate of any US state, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Louisiana. All were in the top ten for fertility in 2020, and all will see their retirees grow to less than 25% of the total population by 2100.

Why are We Aging and What Does it Mean for States?

All states are going to have to support their aging populations with either fertility or migration. And fertility is on the decline. According to the Brookings Institute, the U.S. population will peak in 2080, then slow. But it all depends on immigration. 

Why?

First, we’re just having fewer children. In 2010, there were 74.2 million children living in America. In 2020, there were 73.6, and by 2022? America was home to just 71.6 million kids aged 0 to 17.

The trend follows a long historical decline. It’s actually the postwar baby boom that was anomalous, not the low fertility rates that have followed. While the fertility rate in 1800 was 7 children per woman, today, it’s 1.78 and falling.

By comparison, Japan’s famously elderly population currently includes 30% over 65s with a fertility rate of 1.37. That’s led to a decline in available workers and productivity at a time when the country’s pension and healthcare systems are under greater strain. 

Don’t get us wrong, there are obvious benefits to the current “crisis”. A shrinking economy can lead to innovation like robots and automation, and the fact that more Japanese are living longer should be celebrated.

In the end, America can cope, as Japan has, by heeding its lessons. 

First, we need to create a workforce where innovation makes up for a lack of high-contact, service workers. Second, we deserve to applaud wins. The demographic shift means less child-care burden during the productive lives of young people and healthier people living and working longer, for productivity boosts in old age, too. Even when viewed economically, it’s not all about loss.

Further, the US can move beyond Japan’s model by returning to its immigrant roots and courting new migration to help offset its low fertility rates.

Ultimately, long lives aren’t a problem to be solved. They’re the natural outcome of a successful country that takes better care of its people. 

Perhaps in 2100, Maine, New England, and the rest of the US will embrace its graying Generation Alphas in ways we have only begun to explore.

Methodology

To project the future percentage of the population aged 65 and older, we built upon the foundational work of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia, which projected population ages by state through 2040 using the Hamilton-Perry method. 

Our main formula uses an exponential growth model with diminishing returns, providing a balanced and practical method for projecting long-term population changes. Using their projections as a base, we calculated historical growth rates for the periods 2010 to 2020, 2020 to 2030, and 2030 to 2040. 

These rates were averaged to establish a baseline growth rate. Recognizing that the rate of increase in the elderly population tends to slow over time, we applied a decay factor of 0.8 to temper these growth rates for each subsequent decade. 

This approach ensures realistic projections by gradually reducing the growth rate by 20% each decade, reflecting demographic patterns observed in mature populations. While we did not directly use the Hamilton-Perry method, our approach benefits from its foundational principles, offering a robust framework for long-term population forecasting.

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