Limping to the Top

By John O. Harney

New England is aging … but gracefully?

Last week, the Census Bureau reported that three New England states are the oldest in the U.S. in median age: Maine (43.5 years), Vermont (42.3 years) and New Hampshire (42 years). The other states in the region are old too: Connecticut (40.5 years); Rhode Island (39.8 years) and Massachusetts (39.3 years), compared with a national median age of 37.4 years.

New England’s aging has been rapped before as a threat to regional economic growth. See our Fall 2004 Connection piece (before the journal was rebranded as NEJHE) noting that the region was “perceived as ‘old and cold’—and no longer viewed as a major competitive threat by other parts of the United States.”

Not everyone is sold on the self-pitying brand of competitiveness. Former Providence Journal editorial page editor Bob Whitcomb commented on our item on aging: “Some might see the aged population of the three northern New England states as an unvarnished drawback. However, the states are notable for their very low crime rates, beautiful natural environments, good healthcare indices and indeed high overall quality of life. I see many advantages to such regions in the fact that the median age is rising there and population growth is slowing to a crawl.”

Asked Whitcomb: “Must everything be measured in terms of faster economic growth? And are there really too few people in the world?”

To judge from the congested highways around Boston, the answer is “no.”

Still, the prevailing concern is that New England will suffer for lack of educated young workers.

Now, however, comes some vindication for Whitcomb’s view that faster growth isn’t everything.

This week, the Social Science Research Council published its 2013-14 report, Measure of America, showing that Connecticut and Massachusetts rank first and second nationally in the index measuring not only economic benchmarks but also various measure of health and educational attainment. Rhode Island ranks sixth; New Hampshire, 14th; Vermont, 15th: and Maine 25th.

New England may limp to the top yet. See the interactive maps.

John O. Harney is executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education.



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