The recent release of the 2018 one-year estimates of the American Community Survey is a special day for population data nerds. As we anxiously await for data.census.gov to update the tables with fresh data, we speculate on which communities have grown, shrunk or stayed the same. Here at Community Solutions, we have been keeping an eye on how age demographics are shifting at the county level. The Scripps Gerontology Center has age-projected maps that predict the percentage of the population that will be older than age 65 will continue to grow throughout the state, with some counties “getting older” sooner than others. Another way to think about the percentage of the population that is made up of older adults is to compare it to the percentage of children. Traditionally, there have been more children (under 18) than older adults (over 65) in a community. With declining birth rates, aging of the Baby Boomers and longer life expectancies we are starting to see the traditional demographic of more children than older adults flipping to more older adults than children.
The gap between percentage of children and percentage of older adults is shrinking throughout the state.
So as the 2018 one-year estimate tables were released, I rushed into the search and filter functions to find the numbers that could reveal which, if any, counties had flipped this year from having more children to having more older adults.
For the first time since this data has been collected, and most likely in the history of the state, seven counties in Ohio have a higher percentage of older adults, here defined as those over age 65, than children under age 18. Data from the 2018 one-year estimates only includes counties with a population higher than 65,000. Currently 39 counties in Ohio meet the size and statistical thresholds. When the most recent five-year estimates are included, an additional three counties appear to have flipped as well. Looking at the one-year data estimates, the first county to have more older adults was Belmont, with the children/older adult ratio flip first happening in 2015. Erie County followed in 2016 with 1.1 percent more older adults than children living in the county that year. In 2017 an additional three counties flipped; Jefferson, Mahoning and Trumbull. This year Lake and Columbiana counties join the group. The less populous counties are included in the 2017 five-year estimates, which show that Noble, Ottawa and Monroe also now have more older adults than children.
The gap between percentage of children and percentage of older adults is shrinking throughout the state. However, Delaware, Warren and Franklin counties continue to see higher rates of children by 10 or more percentage points than the older adult population and will likely be the last to see the demographic flip. Of the more populous counties, I predict Geauga, Portage and Richland counties will experience the next shift in population from more children to more older adults. Of the 39 counties, Geauga appears to be moving at the fastest rate to flip, and have more older adults than kids. In 2010, 15.3 percent of the population was over age 65 and in 2018, just eight years later, 20.7 percent of the population was over 65. As our state continues to have more older adults as a share of the population, communities should consider how to prioritize social services funding, make infrastructure improvements and plan for transportation alternatives other than independent driving.