North Dakota Median Age, 2010-2018

I received several questions from media and others this week that boil down to a question of age in the state. The age profile of the state is important in terms of many aspects. First, the trajectory was bad from about 1997 on with significant departures of young and significant remaining by the older. This impacted everything from business succession planning to bank deposit management.

With oil there was a change in the trajectory. The inflows were younger and the outflows were older. There were various reasons for the change but suffice it to say it was about everyone taking advantage of their opportunities.

State Changes

The state got younger, significantly younger. From 2010 to 2018 median age in the United States went from 37.2 years to 38.2 years. Median age in the state of North Dakota went from 37.0 years in 2010 to 35.2 years of age in 2018. In both 2015 and 2016 the state median age was actually below 35 years. This kind of drop in median age is more typical of a large and rapid increase in births or some event that drops the older population quickly (think plague).

County Changes

The geographic distribution of the age change within the state was interesting as well. The pattern in 2010 was:

Cass and Grand Forks counties, home to the two large universities in the State and two of the larger population centers are on the young end which is no surprise. Ward county, where you have the Minot Air Force Base is also younger, again no surprise. The other significantly young counties are host to significant Native American population concentrations, which also tend to be younger. The situation does not stay that way though as the next series of images shows (if you do not want to see each intervening year scroll to the last graph for 2018):

By the end of the time period, 2018, we see another large concentration of young counties in the west of the state. This is the Bakken shale oil play. As mentioned, this age change was not due to a large increase in births in those counties, that happened but it did not create the build of the age change. The bigger reason is that the state, and the Bakken shale counties in particular, brought in a younger workforce, those aged 20-30, and in such large numbers you had the median age drop precipitously. There was also out migration by older residents as property values soared and opportunities to “cash out” and retire elsewhere became financially possible.


The consequences of this change are not fully appreciated, even though it is already the subject of lots of research. The change in age changes, potentially, almost all other aspects of the economy. The quantity and types of products demanded by the consuming public change, with more demanded but likely changes in brand preference and style. Housing demand changes, again both in terms of quantity and type. There is more housing demanded and there would be demand for more “entry-level” housing with a younger population just starting out in their career.

Business-to-business activity changes too. With the rise of a new and significant sector in the economy there are changes in the supply chain (business to business demands). The workforce composition is clearly changed and that has large impacts of production decisions. Healthcare demands would change to some extent. There would be more demands for care related to work and work injuries as well as other healthcare needs such as child delivery and pediatrics. At the same time the older population still has demands associated with older Americans, unless they move out of the region.

There are incredible adjustments and responses expected with such a large economic change. These adjustments are partial and take time typically, but each year with the oil boom was essentially a new exposure to the shock, as well as an adjustment to the changes already occurring and the changes projected to happen. These changes also happened across the entire state in order to satisfy, as best as could be, the supply chain demands of the oil sector in the west.

There is little doubt North Dakota left growth and development opportunities on the table. There is no way they could fully adjust to satisfy the sudden and massive needs of the changes in the state oil sector. However, the demographic changes, and their ongoing and potentially long-lasting impacts, represent a need for further, almost continuous adjustment by businesses and policy authorities in the state.

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