ITHACA, N.Y. — Young people get blamed for a lot of things, merited or not. File this one under the former. As the state and national median age tick upward, Tompkins, with its ever-replenishing supply of college students, is still the youngest county in the state.
According to analyses from the U.S. Census Bureau and first noted by the Albany Times-Union, Tompkins County’s median age of 31.5 years old is the youngest median in New York State, well below the state median of 39 years old, and the U.S. national median of 38.2 years. A quick refresher: median age means 50% of people are younger than that age, and 50% are older than that age.
Tompkins has a comfortable lead over the next youngest county in the state, Jefferson County up in the North Country – the presence of thousands of young soldiers at Fort Drum brings their median age down to about 32.7 years old, followed by the Bronx at 34.4 years old. The oldest county by median age in New York State is Hamilton County in the Adirondacks, with a median age of 56 years old, though one should note it also has the fewest people in the state, with fewer residents than the Town of Newfield and not a single traffic light in the county.
More than 80% of counties across the country report higher median ages in 2018 than they did in 2010, as the birth rate continues to decline and those already walking on this Earth are hanging around longer than they used to (though life expectancy has started to decline in the past couple years thanks to “diseases of despair,” like the opioid epidemic and a significant rise in the suicide rate).
Only five of New York’s 62 counties have a lower median age in 2018 than they did in 2010 – Albany, Broome, Erie, Montgomery and Rockland counties.
While still young overall, Tompkins qualifies as a “rapidly aging” county. In 2010, the median age for a county resident was only 29.6 years old. There are more college students in Tompkins County in 2018 than there were in 2010, according to enrollment factbooks from Ithaca College, Cornell and Tompkins Cortland Community College, the large majority of which are college-aged (18-22).
But Tompkins County’s birth rate, already one of the lowest in the state, continues to fall, and its increasing attraction as a place to retire helps raise the median age as well. The Cornell Program in Applied Demographics states that from 2010 to 2017, the percentage of the county’s population over 65 has increased from 10.8% to 14.1%.
These trends show up in national statistics as well. The birth rate is the lowest it’s been since detailed records began in 1940, and the Baby Boomers, until recently the largest generation in population, aren’t getting any younger. As a result, the average median age nationwide has grown from 37.1 years old, to 38.2 years old.
If the college kids have you feeling old, we hear Hamilton County is quite nice this time of the year.