Declining Growth from Natural Increase: The Impact of Population Aging

Net migration has been a major driver of North Carolina’s growth since 1990 and its importance will only increase in coming years. The only other potential source of growth is natural increase—births minus deaths—and this has been declining since the recession. In my recent post, I noted that even if fertility rates increase significantly, we should not expect natural increase to rebound to prior levels, largely due to the growing impacts of population aging.

Although population aging is frequently discussed, it is often hard to fully grasp the magnitude of these impacts. One way we can try to better understand composition shifts is through standardization. To understand the impacts that the state’s changing age structure has on natural increase, I assumed a total population of 10 million (NC’s population in 2015). I then distributed this population according to the observed and projected age structure of the state in 5-year intervals from 1970 through 2035. Last, I estimated the number of deaths that would occur under a given age structure by using 2015 age-specific mortality rates from the NC State Center for Health Statistics.

North Carolina’s age structure has shifted markedly over the past 45 years. In 1970, the impacts of the Baby Boom were still visible: 39% of the state’s population was under the age of 20. At the same time, just 8% of the population was 65 and older.

Since 1970, the population proportion under the age of 20 has steadily declined while the population at older ages has steadily grown. As of 2015, just over a quarter (26%) of the state’s population was under 20 while 15% were age 65 or older. By 2035, the under 20 population is projected to shrink to 23% of the state’s population while the 65 and older population is projected to account for 21% of all residents.

In 2015, North Carolina’s age-specific mortality rates per 100,000 ranged from 62 for individuals under age 20 to 14,482 for individuals ages 85 and older. Holding these rates constant, the estimated number of deaths shifts significantly as age structure shifts, reflecting the impact of higher mortality rates at older ages.

Applying the current rates to a population of 10 million with the state’s 2015 age structure yields just over 92,000 deaths. In comparison, the same total population and same rates with the younger age structure of 1970 would have 40% fewer deaths (54,400). A shift to the older age structure of 2035, however, would increase the number of deaths by more than 30% to 121,000.

Barring radical improvements in mortality (e.g., halving older-age mortality rates – an unlikely proposition), the number of deaths in North Carolina will steadily increase as the population proportion at older ages grows. Modest increases in fertility and reductions in mortality rates are unlikely to offset the impact of this aging population on natural increase.

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North Carolina population growth at highest levels since 2010

North Carolina’s population grew by 112,000 between 2015 and 2016, the largest single year increase since 2010, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. With a growth rate of 1.1%, North Carolina’s 2015-16 growth was faster than the national growth rate (0.7%) and similar to the South’s regional rate (1.1%). Overall, North Carolina’s population has grown by 611,000 since 2010, an increase of 6.4%.

The uptick in population growth was fueled by an increase in net migration: North Carolina received 81,000 net migrants between 2015 and 2016. This was the fifth largest inflow of any state after Florida (346K), Texas (221K), Washington (94K), and Arizona (83K). Net migration accounted for nearly three of every four new residents to the state.

Meanwhile, natural increase (births minus deaths) declined to the lowest level recorded in the state since 1970. Between 2015 and 2016, nearly 121,000 babies were born in North Carolina and 90,000 individuals died, a net population gain from natural increase of just 31,000. This is a marked decline from 2007, when North Carolina added nearly 55,000 new residents due to natural increase (131,000 births and 76,000 deaths), the largest numeric gain from natural increase in state history.

The declining influence of natural increase on population growth reflects the combined impact of two factors. Continue reading

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Top 10 Last Names

In addition to counting basic demographic characteristics of 309 million Americans, the 2010 decennial census also included information on the last names about 295 million individuals – more than 95% of all Americans. Summaries of these data were made publicly available today. Some highlights:

  • Americans reported 6.3 million individual surnames in 2010. Most of these—3.9 million or 62%–were reported only once. Why? Lots of unique surnames or unique variations of more common names.
  • There were 11 last names reported by more than one million individuals: Smith, Johnson, Williams, Brown, Jones, Garcia, Miller, Davis, Rodriguez, Martinez, and Hernandez. Nearly 16 million Americans have one of these 11 last names.
  • Among the top 15 fastest-growing last names (2000-2010), all but one are predominantly Asian or Hispanic, reflecting the faster growth in these populations over the decade.

Last names vary significantly by race and ethnicity. “Most individual surnames do not reflect the diversity of the population as a whole,” writes Joshua Comenetz. “In many cases, over 90 percent of people reporting a name” are from a single race or ethnic group.

Among the top 10 surnames nationwide, the top five are dominated by white and black individuals, while three of the next five are predominantly Hispanic.


What does your last name look like? You can download the full file of names reported by 100 or more individuals here. As of 2010, I was one of 4,344 with the last name Tippett. It was the 7,644th most common last name, a slight decline in position from 2000 (#7,620).

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Mexico top sending country for immigrants to NC in 2015

After the Great Recession, the volume of Mexican immigration to the United States—and North Carolina—dropped sharply. Between 2009 and 2014, the Pew Hispanic Center found that more Mexican immigrants had returned to Mexico than immigrated to the U.S., with an estimated net migration of -140,000 individuals. During this same time period, Asian countries, such as China and India, emerged as leading senders of immigrants. Similar trends were documented in North Carolina.

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey indicate changing patterns in North Carolina but not the nation. Nationally, India and China remain the leading sources of new immigrants to America. In 2015, the U.S. received 180,000 immigrants from India and 143,000 from China compared to 139,000 from Mexico.

In North Carolina, immigration from Mexico more than doubled between 2014 and 2015, rising from just under 3,500 to nearly 7,400. The volume of Mexican immigration to the state in 2015 was greater than the combined volume of immigration from both China (3,500) and India (3,400).


Although there have been large continued flows of Mexican immigrants into the state since 2005, North Carolina’s Mexican population has not grown as much as populations born in other countries. Continue reading

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The North Carolina Electorate: North Carolina-born voters


Over half (54%) of North Carolina’s voting-eligible (18+ citizen) population is North Carolina born, according to estimates from the 2014 American Community Survey. This is slightly below the national proportion of 56% of eligible voters born in their current state of residence. Louisiana has the highest proportion of state native potential voters at 77% while Nevada has by far the lowest rate. Just 14% of Nevada’s voting-eligible residents were born in Nevada.

As individuals moved to North Carolina from other states and countries over the past few decades, the state share of North Carolina-born potential voters has declined. Continue reading

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