Published Date Written by Michael KitchDURHAM — Belknap County is among four counties in New Hampshire — Carroll, Coos and Sullivan are the others — and 1,135 counties, or 36-percent of all counties, in the United States, which yesterday were widely described in headlines as "dying."
Kenneth Johnson, senior demographer at the Carsey Institute of the University of New Hampshire, drawing on data collected by the Census Bureau, reported that in these counties the number of deaths exceeded the number of births, representing a natural decrease in population. Never have so many counties been marked by a natural decrease in population, he found. Moreover, for the first time in American history, deaths topped births in two entire states — Maine and West Virginia.
Johnson said yesterday that despite the natural decrease, Belknap County was the only one of the four "dying" counties in the state where the population increased — from 56,325 in 2000 to 60,088 in 2010 — despite the natural decrease.
"In-migration accounted for the growth," he said, describing Belknap County as a "retirement and recreation" county, where, unlike counties characterized by agriculture or extractive industries, population has grown. However, Johnson said that the pace of pace of in-migration has slowed during the last decade, especially since the onset of the Great Recession.
The natural decrease in the population, Johnson explained, is the result of both the declining number of births and falling fertility rate, or average number of children born to a woman during her lifetime. At the same time, the aging of the population is reflected in the growing number of deaths, which last year reached 2,513,000 in the United States, the most in any year.
Between 2000 and 2010, while the population of the county rose by 6.5-percent the age group younger than 18 fell nearly as fast, 6.3-percent, to diminish from almost a quarter to barely a fifth of the population. Meanwhile, the median age increased from 40.1 to 44.7.
The New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies projects that those over 65 will represent 37-percent of the Belknap County population by 2030, the second largest share of senior citizens among the 10 counties.
Johnson suggested demographic trends in Belknap County may be mitigated by its relative proximity to Concord and Manchester, noting that rural counties near more metropolitan centers have more robust population growth.
Likewise, he said that Belknap County would continue to draw migrants while cautioning that a significant share of them would be beyond their child bearing years, who would accelerate the aging of the county population. For instance, Johnson said that one survey indicated that half of second homeowners plan to retire to their second home. In 2010, seasonal homes represented 28-percent of the housing stock in Belknap County. Russ Thibeault of Applied Economic Research expects that many of these seasonal homes will become year-round residences when their owners retire.