UNH Study: N.H. Now Among 17 States Where White Deaths Exceed White Births

Nov 30, 2016

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  New Hampshire has joined a growing list of states where more white people are dying than are being born.

That’s according to a University of New Hampshire study released Tuesday, which found 17 states experiencing this demographic shift known as “white natural decrease.”

That’s up from just four states in 2004.

  Ken Johnson is a professor of sociology at UNH and a senior demographer at the university’s Carsey School of Public Policy.

He co-wrote the study and joined NHPR’s Morning Edition to talk about his research.

Can you explain a little bit about your research and what you found?

Our research focuses on the non-Hispanic white part of the U.S. population, which is about 67 percent of the whole population. We were looking particularly at the phenomenon demographers call white natural decrease, which is when more white people die than are born. It’s traditionally been unusual in the United States, but we found that in 2014, which is the last for which data are available, we found 17 states where more whites are dying than are being born.

Credit Carsey School of Public Policy

And this is really reshaping the country in a lot of different ways, and we’re really seeing this trend take hold locally here in New England as well. What factors are causing this shift?

In general, three things are driving the growing the incidence of white natural decrease in the United States. One is the number of white women of child-bearing age is diminishing. A second factor that’s very important and certainly relevant in New Hampshire is that the population, the white population in particular, is aging. And as the population gets older, the likelihood of natural decrease increases because there’s more mortality. The third factor that influences natural decrease is the number of children being born per women, or the fertility rates of the population. And the white fertility rate in the United States and in New Hampshire is low. And so those three factors have combined in many parts of the United States to cause white natural decrease.

You talk in your research about this trend having major policy implications. What are some of those implications?

One significant issue will be that as the older white population continues to age, its attention is going to be focused on policy issues related to health care and retirement, in contrast with the younger minority population. Their focus is more likely to be on things like education and job training. In an economy that’s not growing very fast, it may be that these two phenomenon could clash with one another. On the other hand, if people could work together and recognize that increasing the education level produced a more competitive labor force and that generates more revenues to support an older population that needs Social Security and health care. It could be a period of cooperation between the minority and the white population. It’s unclear yet what’s going to happen.

What does it mean specifically for states here in New England? What does it mean on a state-by-state basis?

One of the things about the way white natural decrease or population is changing in New England is that in some parts of these states, and you can certainly see it in New Hampshire, in the Manchester area, you actually have quite a diverse population, where whites are an important part of the population, but they’re not the only part of the population, you can see this playing up on things like school issues. In other parts of the state and in other parts of New England, the population is virtually all non-Hispanic white. And so even within the state, there’s going to be tensions between the needs of some parts of the state that are dealing with a more diverse population and the needs of other parts of the state which are really dealing with this decline in the white population, both through natural decrease, and through aging. The focus is going to be on senior centers not on new pediatric wards in hospitals, and that sort of thing. It’s a very complex dynamic that plays out at many different policy levels, from the United States as a whole, to the state, to individual areas within the state.

Where do you see this going? What could this study look like in say 10, 20 years?

I think in another decade you’ll see even more states with natural decrease in their white population and I think it will spread to even more parts of the country. It’s most pronounced in New England. The only New England state that doesn’t have white natural decrease is Vermont and it’s teetering right on the edge. It might in the next year or two go into natural decrease. So New England is sort of a preview of what the rest of the country is going to look like.