Oil a fountain of youth for North Dakota?

As most readers know, I think population is one of the most important variables when discussing the economic growth, development, and history of North Dakota. Well, of probably any region really. There are many different aspects to a discussion of population though. It can be a count of people, birth measures, mortality, migration, and so on. Today I focus on age. Why?

Ever since I arrived in North Dakota I heard the state was graying faster than the nation as a whole. For the most part this seemed to be borne out by the data from around 2000 to 2010 or so. However, much of this changed when oil prices rose and fracking came to North Dakota. Over the last decade the median age in the state declined by 4 years. Seriously, that does not happen outside of a baby boom or a plague killing off older people.

So what happened on a county-by-county basis is the topic of the day.

While not the main topic of this post it should be noted that areas with significant Native American population concentrations are on the younger end of the spectrum. The demography of these areas is incredibly interesting, and is practically a state within the state. It is also not a surprise that Cass and Grand Forks counties (locations for the two largest universities in the state University system) are on the younger end of the spectrum. So how did this change by 2015?

Oil is a veritable fountain of youth in North Dakota! The western counties, which were in the middle of the age range in 2010 are now on the younger end of the spectrum. The oil industry needed workers, and many of those brought in were young. The increase in males aged 24-30 was particularly large from other data work I did. I wanted to see the specific change in ages for the various counties.

What is interesting, to me at least, is that, while they stayed on the younger end of the age spectrum, Case and Grand Forks counties actually got older, if ever so slightly. The real changes are in areas like Williams County with a median age decline of over seven years. Burke County witnessed a decline of almost 14 years!

So what are the outstanding research questions? Said another way, when I cannot sleep what am I thinking about? I wonder about a reversal given the reduction in oil activity and the extent to which that happened. I wonder about the impact on other demographic measures like marriage and births and how those may change, if only in a temporary fashion.

These are important questions to answer in terms of the long run, sustainable growth for the various counties in North Dakota. In addition, as you talk about pensions and public finances, the age structure of the population becomes an important part of the math. We need further discussion and research about these issues in order to better inform public policy decisions.

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