By Lucia Ona, CEDIK Research Associate
In the previous blogpost (Aging in Kentucky, part 1), we discussed and showed evidence that Kentucky’s rural communities—much like the rest of the country—are, in fact, aging. In this post, we go one step further and ask: why is Kentucky’s population aging? There are three causes of changes in population: fertility, mortality, and migration. At the national level, the process of population aging is due primarily to long-term declines in the fertility rate and to improvements in mortality, especially among older people (Haaga, 2004).
During the last decade, population losses and slow growth were prevalent throughout the mountain communities of Eastern Kentucky and the river communities of Western Kentucky. In these areas, negative population momentum has been building for decades. Out-migration over generations has reduced the youth population and suppressed natural increase through fertility (Price, 2011). Out-migration has also resulted in brain drain for rural areas because newcomers to the rural areas of the state have been traditionally less educated than the ones leaving (Price, 1996).
The map below shows projection of net migration for the counties of Kentucky for the period 2010-2015. Net migration for a given geographic area is the difference between in-migration and out-migration during a specified time frame. The red-orange counties are experiencing negative migration. It can be seen that several counties both in the Eastern and the Western parts of the state show negative migration patterns—meaning that more people have migrated out of the area than have migrated into it. Going further, the map below shows net migration patterns at the county level for the Kentucky counties in the period 2000-2010 by age groups. The red counties have lost both the populations 19 and younger and 65 to 79, the yellow counties that have lost population 19 and younger but have gained population between 65 and 79, the blue counties have gained 19 and younger but lost population between 65 and 79, and the green counties gained both the youngest group of population and the population between 65 and 79. It is interesting to see that there are several rural counties that are attracting population 65 to 79 years old back to their communities. This may be because elders return to their place of origin to be among family and friends or enjoy living in a centrally located state with balanced weather and amenities.
Fertility, mortality and migration have each contributed to the aging population nationwide and within Kentucky communities. While the challenges of supporting an aging population are immense—including the access to financial security, social security, health, and an enabling and supportive environment—it is important to remember that the presence of a growing older population is also an opportunity. For example, older populations are associated with reduced crime and in many cases with a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. According to the Kentucky Elder Readiness Initiative of Kentucky (KERI) elders should not be viewed as dependents but community resources (KERI, 2009). Crucial priority actions involving all actors in society will need to be taken to maximize the opportunity of the aging population.
“Trees grow stronger over the years, rivers wider. Likewise, with age, human beings gain immeasurable depth and breadth of experience and wisdom. That is why older persons should be not only respected and revered; they should be utilized as the rich resource to society that they are.” – Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan
Haaga, J. 2004. The Aging of Appalachia. Demographic and Socioeconomic Change in Appalachia. Population Reference Bureau, Kentucky.
Elder Readiness Initiative (KERI). 2009. Anticipating the gifts and needs of older Kentuckians in http://kltprc.info/pubs/KERI/KERI_Brief_2.pdf
Price, M. 1996. Migration in Kentucky: Will the Circle Be Unbroken? In Exploring the Frontier of the Future: How Kentucky Will Live, Learn and Work.
Price, M. 2011. Kentucky Population Growth: What Did the 2010 Census Tell Us? Kentucky State Data Center.