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Census figures show Wisconsin aging

May 12, 2011

Wisconsin’s population is aging, with the state’s median age reaching 38.5, according to Census 2010 figures released today (May 12).

The estimate is up from the median age of 36 reported in 2000.

“Aging communities face unique challenges as well as opportunities,” says Katherine Curtis, demographic specialist and faculty affiliate of the Applied Population Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “Challenges include the delivery of local services such as health care, housing and transportation. Civic engagement is an especially vital issue in these communities. Older residents can be a source for volunteers and community action. Yet factions can emerge when the needs and values of older residents are not in concert with younger residents.”

Such differences might perpetuate the out-migration of younger populations and, in turn, foster the continued aging of communities.

Michigan reported a similar median age of 38.9, while North Dakota, a rural state often featured in discussions of aging in place, reported a lower median age of 37.

Census 2010 counts report 777,314 retirement-age (65 and over) residents in Wisconsin, accounting for 13.7 percent of the total population and marking a 10.6 percent increase in this age group since 2000.

As Wisconsin’s older population has increased, its child population has decreased. The number of children, those under age 18, declined by 2.1 percent, falling from 1.37 million in 2000 to 1.34 million in 2010. Declines were reported for all child age groups except children under 5 years old, which grew by 4.7 percent since 2000.

All but two Wisconsin counties have aged since 2000, with Milwaukee and Grant counties as the exceptions. The biggest increase was reported for the rural counties largely concentrated in northern Wisconsin. This is part of a larger trend of aging in place that is closely tied to labor and retirement migration, says Curtis.

“Aging populations can result from the out-migration of young populations pursuing educational or economic opportunities, the in-migration of older populations seeking amenity-rich places to enjoy their retirement, or some combination of both,” she says.

Curtis adds young populations are reproduced through fertility whereas older populations must rely on migration to sustain or grow.

Iron County reported the highest median age at 51, with 25.4 percent of the population 65 years or older. Vilas County was a close second at 50.7, with 25.9 percent of the population 65 years or older. Menominee County reported the lowest median age at 31.4. Only 11.4 percent of the county population was 65 years or older.

More detailed data — including single-year age breakdowns and age by race — from Census 2010 will be released in the coming months. All data are publicly available and can be accessed through the U.S. Census Bureau’s online search engine,