DURHAM, N.H. – In the United States, fewer births and more deaths reduced population growth to a 100-year low. New Hampshire is one of the few states that has experienced more deaths than births in the past several years, although it still is seeing modest population increases because of people moving to the state, according to new research from the University of New Hampshire.
“Since the Great Recession, fertility has diminished the most among younger women, and it is unclear whether these births are being delayed or will be foregone. This has significant implications for the future incidence of natural decrease, as does the rapidly unfolding SARS-CoV-2 pandemic,” said Kenneth Johnson, senior demographer with the UNH Carsey School of Public Policy and researcher with the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station.
Last year, deaths in the United States reached a record high at 2.8 million while births sunk to their lowest level since 1986 at 3.8 million, the Census Bureau reported. As a result of this and diminished immigration, the nation experienced its lowest population growth rate since 1919, just 0.48 percent.
This resulted from a natural shrinking of the surplus of births over death to its lowest level in the nation in more than 50 years, and this occurred well before the onset of COVID-19. “If the pandemic is as significant as some experts fear, U.S. deaths could exceed births in the near future, something that has never happened before,” said Johnson, who also is a UNH professor of sociology and an Andrew Carnegie Fellow.
The natural decrease already is widespread in New Hampshire. Deaths have modestly exceeded births in the state in each of the last three years, according to Census Bureau data. Between 2010 and 2019, seven of New Hampshire’s 10 counties had more deaths than births. Births still exceeded deaths in three of the state’s most populous counties: Hillsborough, Rockingham, and Strafford.
However, New Hampshire has continued to gain population despite this natural decrease because more people are moving to the state than leaving. Most of this migration gain has come because more people are moving to New Hampshire from other U.S. destinations. Over the past three years, an annual average of 3,800 more people moved into New Hampshire from other U.S. destinations than left it. New Hampshire also received an annual average of 2,200 net immigrants from other nations. In a state where deaths now exceed births, such migration is critical to New Hampshire’s future.
“The natural decrease evident both nationwide and in New Hampshire is more likely in rural than urban areas. It is widespread in agriculture, mining, timber processing, and older industrial regions. Natural decrease is more common in areas like New Hampshire with larger proportions of older adults, fewer women of child-bearing age, and low fertility rates,” Johnson said.
This material is based upon work supported by the NH Agricultural Experiment Station, through joint funding of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 1013434, and the state of New Hampshire. It also was supported by Johnson’s Andrew Carnegie Fellowship.
Components of New Hampshire’s demographic change from 2010 to 2019.
(Credit: K.M. Johnson, UNH Carsey School of Public Policy)
–Lori G. Wright, University of New Hampshire