Where Do the Young and Old People Live, and How Has That Changed Over the Years?

R.T. Young

R.T. Young, Ph.D. Business Economics

Individuals often want to live next to or in areas with lots of like-minded individuals. Often, this natural separation happens based on age.

What does this natural separation look like according to age groups?

Here’s a look at states according to the breakdown of their population by age group.

First, a look at how the share of the population in the zero to four-year-old age group has changed in the United States since 1900 (animated GIF).

As is likely no surprise, Americans have decided to raise fewer children, with the share of the population aged zero to four declining from about 12 percent in 1900 to about six percent today.

The decline to today’s level has not been linear. The animation clearly shows the downward trend in the number of children started early in the century, bumped up with the birth of “America’s greatest generation” in the 1940s, declined from there, then bumped up again with the “baby boomer generation,” and has since been on a downward spiral.

With the decline in the baby and toddler population across the nation as the background, where would you guess families have lots of toddlers?

Perhaps a place like Mormon Utah, or California where there are lots of immigrants (immigrant families tend to be larger than native-born American families)?

Well, if you guessed Utah, you’d be right. Other top states for toddlers are Alaska, Texas, Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

On the other end, Vermont has the fewest kids as a percent of its population at just 4.9 percent. Vermont is followed by New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Florida, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Michigan (bottom 10) (see figure below).

Graph 1

How do the 2012 figures compare to 1970? The following examines that comparison.

Interestingly, some states are consistent in toddler population, with, for example, Utah staying on top for nearly 50 years now. Alaska, Louisiana, New Mexico and Idaho are the other four states that are in the top 10 in 2012 and were in the top 10 in 1970.

On the other end, Florida continues to be an older American’s paradise, going from 43rd to 50th between 1970 and 2012. Other states that stayed at the bottom rung of the age pyramid are Rhode Island and West Virginia.

Interestingly, a good portion of states shifted around, and many times, by a lot. For example, Vermont, the oldest in 2012, was actually the 13th youngest in 1970. The opposite story holds true for Michigan, with Michigan going from a very young state in 1970 (ranked ninth) to a very old state today (ranked 40th).

Graph 2

The following is an animated GIF filling in the years left out above.

Let’s move on to the retirement years (65+). Here’s a look at the share of the population in the United States aged 65+ from 1900 to today. The first graph sorts the data according to 1970s ranking and the second sorts according to 2012s ranking.

It likely comes as no surprise that the state with the fewest babies and toddlers has the most 65+ individuals. In 1970, Florida ranked first overall, with about 15 percent of its population over 65. (In 2012, that proportion has jumped to about 21 percent.) In 1970, Florida’s elderly population was followed by Iowa, Nebraska, Arkansas, South Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Maine and Massachusetts to round out the top 10.

On the other end, in 1970 Alaska had the smallest proportion of its population over 65 at just two percent (it’s about nine percent today). Alaska’s 1970 elderly population is followed by Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia and Delaware to round out the bottom 10.

Fast forward to today. Florida ranks highest, with 21 percent of its population over 65, followed by Maine, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Montana, Iowa, Rhode Island, Hawaii and Connecticut.

On the other end, in 2012 the states with the smallest proportion of is population over 65 are Alaska, Utah, Texas, Georgia, Colorado, California, Nevada, Louisiana, Virginia and Wyoming.

Graph 3

Graph 4

The following animated GIF fills in the years not shown above.

What causes these clusters of aged groups by state? Well, some blame the climate, with older individuals drawn more to sunnier climates. Others source the shifting to tax policy, where older Americans prefer states where the income tax rate is lower. Still others mention industry effects, meaning that Michigan is getting older because there are no jobs there for the young people.

The exact cause isn’t that exact at all, with multiple reasons explaining the clustering of the young and the clustering of the old in certain geographic areas.

Overall, the American population is changing. Although Americans are getting older, some interesting pockets of age clusters have developed across states over the years. Will Utah continue to be a place for families to set up shop? Will Florida continue to attract retired Americans? If you can answer these questions accurately in 50 years from now, you’re a rock star demographer.

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About R.T. Young

R.T. Young

R.T. Young, Ph.D. Business Economics

R.T. is a business economist and angel investor. R.T. spends his days doing advanced statistical analysis and writing for businesses and elected officials across the United States, Europe and Asia. In his off-time, R.T. enjoys basketball, football, baseball and most any other sport. R.T. holds a Ph.D. in business economics and a bachelor’s degree in physics.

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3 thoughts on “Where Do the Young and Old People Live, and How Has That Changed Over the Years?”

  1. The ‘greatest generation’ was not born in the 1940’s. The ‘baby boomer’ generation was born in the 1940’s-50’s.

    1. Perhaps this is what happens when those under 40 are overrepresented in the media. I’m in my mid-50s & an underemployed journalist. Most of my profession I worked in print media, though I use the web, social media, etc. quite adeptly. VERY difficult to get hired, or even to a 2nd interview when I’ve interviewed with media outlets since I lost my newspaper job in ’13.

      The prevailing wisdom seems to be: “Hire ’em young; hire ’em cheap.”

  2. Addendum: It was only after my previous post that I learned the authors on city-data.com are generally PhD scholars associated with colleges and universities. Nothing wrong with that; however judging from the photos of those authors, the vast majority appear to be in the under-45 club.

    Please, world: I support diversity in all its forms, but can we please add diversity of AGE to our strivings for diversity? Thank you.

    (FYI: I have an MFA in writing — the terminal degree in that field — & 10+ years working on the editorial side of newspapers as well as at a book publisher and some adjunct English comp. teaching. If anyone at city-data.com wants to contact me re. getting back to work in my field, I welcome that! Even if it’s simply as a copy editor. )

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