U.S. Median Age Rises To New Record High Of 38.9 Years

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American society may or may not be getting wiser. But it’s certainly getting older as a whole. The 2022 U.S. Census has revealed that the median age of Americans went up by 0.2 years from a then-record high of 38.7 years in 2021 up to a new record high 38.9 years in 2022. That means that about half the 334.2 million or so people in the U.S. are older than Facebook co-founder and billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, the movie Cujo, and Hasbro’s Glo Worms, who are all about 39 years of age, not that the three are related. And about half are younger. The question then is whether all of this is a good thing. Well, when it comes to aging, it depends.

Of course, not all states are aging at the same rate or in the same way. There are 50 shades of gray, so to speak. However, all but four states—Alabama, Maine, Tennessee, and West Virginia—in the U.S. and the District of Columbia did experience increases in their median ages from 2021 to 2022. And aloha, Hawaii had the biggest increase of them all, bouncing 0.4 years up to 40.7 in just one year.

Drilling down to the county level revealed that 1,846 or 59% of U.S. counties saw their median ages go up from 2021 to 2022. That’s 8% more than the 1,590 counties that experienced increases from 2020 to 2021. Jasper County, South Carolina, and Blaine County, Idaho, had the biggest increases in median age among counties with populations of 20,000 or greater. In the course of one year, both had increases of one year up to 46.3 years for Jasper County and 45.9 for Blaine County.

If you are wondering which state had the highest median age, your “main” focus should be on the state whose motto is DIRIGO, which is Latin for “I lead.” Yep, Maine led the pack with a median age of 44.8 years. The second highest was the “Live Free or Die” state, New Hampshire, which came in at 43.3. All told, 17 states in the country had median ages older than Nicki Minaj, who turned 40 in 2022.

In 2022, there were seven counties with median ages at or above Tom Cruise’s or Taco Bell’s age, which was 60 years last year. These included Highland County, Virginia (with a median age of 60.0 years), Charlotte County, Florida (60.2), Jefferson County, Washington (60.4), Harding County, New Mexico (60.5), Jeff Davis County, Texas (61.7), Catron County, New Mexico (62.1), and Sumter County, Florida (68.1).

Now, if you are looking for the state or district with the youngest population, look to the state with Bryce, Bryce baby. That’s right, Utah had the youngest median age at 31.9 years. The second youngest median age was the District of Columbia (34.8) but probably not because of the Congresspeople themselves. Carrie Blazina and DrewDeSilva wrote for the Pew Research Center in January that the median age of House of Representatives members was 57.9 years and Senators was 65.3 years, which, Pew, is nearly twice the median age in D.C. Coming in third was Texas with a median age of 35.5 years.

If you are looking for people who don’t know what a rotary phone, a floppy disc and a Marky Mark are, the best counties to look might be Utah (with a median age of 25.7 years) and Cache (25.8) counties in Utah, Onslow County, North Carolina (27.6), Tippecanoe County, Indiana (28.8), Clarke County, Georgia (29.1), and Brazos (26.7) and Webb (29.8) counties in Texas. These are the seven counties with populations of 100,000 or greater that had median ages of less than 30.0 years.

Now, there are two general reasons why a population’s median age may be increasing. One is that people may be living longer. While this may have been the case in the U.S. in previous decades, it hasn’t been the case in the 2020s. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’S) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) showed that life expectancy at birth in the United States declined from 77.0 in 2020 to 76.1 years in 2021, bringing this number to its lowest level since 1996. In fact, from 2019 to 2021, the 2.7-year drop in life expectancy became the biggest two-year decline since the years 1921 to 1923. You can’t really blame this drop solely on the Covid-19 pandemic, though, since life expectancy was already plateauing over the decade prior to 2020.

The other possible reason for an increasing median age is that fewer new people are entering the U.S. population. This can occur via fewer infants getting born—which is when they are really new—or fewer younger people immigrating to this country. A May 31, 2023, Brookings Institute post by Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip Levine mentioned how “births had been steadily declining for many years” prior to the Covid-19 pandemic with “almost 600,000 fewer annual births in 2019 relative to 2007—a 13% reduction.” There was a baby bump during the earlier days of the pandemic because, gee, what do couples do when they are home together for extended periods of time? But like caution about the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the bump in birth rates seems to have largely disappeared over the past year.

Recent years have seen a drop in immigration as well. This has been a more recent phenomenon, starting in 2017, based on data from the United States Census Bureau. Now it’s not complete clear what the covfefe may have happened in 2017 to reverse the upwards trend in immigration that occurred in the first half of the decade. But net international migration went from around 1.236 million in 2016 down to 1.182 million in 2017 to 0.998 million in 2018 to 0.915 million in 2019 to 0.726 million in 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic may have had something to with the plummet down to 0.376 million in 2021 as these numbers have bounced back upwards since.

Although life may begin at 40, the aging of the population combined with recent decreases in life expectancy is not a good sign. It’s not as if the U.S. population has been getting healthier and healthier. As I have described previously for Forbes, the rates of health problems such as obesity and other chronic medical conditions have continued to grow since the 1980’s because that’s kind of what happens to problems when you don’t really address them.

An aging population may contribute to workforce shortages in the U.S. And such shortages could occur in essential functions and industries like healthcare, education, manufacturing and agriculture versus YouTubing and social media influencing. Plus, if you are older and like to say that the younger generations are “useless” or something like that, keep in mind that at some point, you’re gonna need younger ones to take care of you.

The U.S. is hitting a real gray area now. It’s not completely clear whether and how America will address all of these issues. America has long relied on immigration to bring new talent, ideas, and infusions of youth into the country. So, how will the U.S. ensure that this fountain of youth is maintained? And what about birth rates? Birth rates may be going down because people are waiting longer to have children, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Having children when you are still bedazzling yourself way to much and somehow believe that boofing is a good thing may not be the best idea. There’s something to be said about waiting until you are more mature and more aware of yourself to have and raise kids. However, declining birth rates could be a bad sign if many adults don’t feel good enough about society and safe and secure enough to have and raise children successfully.

Ultimately, it would be wise for our country to look deeper into the age old issue of what’s driving changes in the age structure of the U.S. Until 2010, life expectancy had been steadily rising in the U.S. But unless more is done about the growing range of problems that have been plaguing American society since the 1980s, you can’t necessarily expect such a life expectancy trend to happen in the future.

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