New Census data on age and race in West Michigan released

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released detailed population estimates at the county level, showing in greater depth the local populations across the nation by age, race, ethnicity, and gender. These data are key to learning more about our local communities, and helping us further quantify the diversity of the region, as well as the size of the potential labor force by age. In this post, we’d like to look briefly at what the age composition of the West Michigan region looks like, and how it’s changed over the past five years. 

West Michigan remains younger than the state, nation

As has been the case for several years, West Michigan remains younger than both the state of Michigan as well as the nation as a whole. Of the 1.58 million residents living in the region, 23.9% of them are under the age of 18. This is higher than the proportion seen at the state level (22.1%) and nationally (22.8%). Looking a little broader, 59.0% of the population in West Michigan is under the age of 45, which is slightly higher than the United States (58.7%) and significantly higher than Michigan (56.2%).


Although the region continues to be home to a younger population, West Michigan experienced the same overall aging trend seen across all geographies over the past five years. From 2011 to 2016, the population grew from 1.52 to 1.58 million residents, or 3.7%. However, the age categories seeing the largest growth tend to be in higher age brackets. The population ages 65 years and over grew from 196,252 to 233,654 as the Baby Boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) continues to age. Conversely, the four youngest age brackets all saw drops in residents over the past five years, including residents Under 5 years old (-0.2%), 5 to 9 years (-1.0%), 10 to 14 years (-2.2%), and 15 to 19 years (-2.8%). 

Counties old and young in West Michigan

West Michigan features some of the oldest and youngest counties in the state. Although Mecosta County was the youngest county in West Michigan in 2011 with a median age of 34.0 (thanks in large part to the presence of Ferris State University in Big Rapids), in 2016 Kent County and Ottawa County have jointly become the youngest with a median age of 35.1. The median age is Mecosta County is now 36.4.

These three counties are the only ones in the region with a younger median age than the national median of 37.9. Ionia (38.2) and Muskegon (39.2) counties make it five counties in West Michigan that are younger than the state median of 39.7, with the remaining 8 counties having median ages between 40.1 and 52.8.


Learn more!

There is plenty more information to unpack from this latest data release from the U.S. Census Bureau. Read more on the population estimates program website to learn more about the data, read statewide analysis from Michigan’s State Demographer Eric Guthrie, and look out for our next Data Points blog on July 13th for more analysis about what the numbers say about West Michigan.

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