New data released by the U.S. Census Bureau shows New Mexico's population is aging.

New Mexico’s total population increased by 2.8% from 2010 to 2020, but the population of people ages 65 and older increased by 43.7%, according to 2020 Census data released by the Census Bureau and analyzed by Geospatial Population Studies at The University of New Mexico.

The new data comes from the Demographic and Housing Characteristics file and is the first data set from the 2020 Census that includes detailed age characteristics beyond the previously released numbers of children and adults in the state.

The numbers in New Mexico are part of a national trend of aging populations as baby boomers reach retirement age. In 2020, 16.8% of the U.S. population was 65 and older, up from 13% in 2010. 

Highlights from the new data:

  • 18.5% of New Mexicans were ages 65 and up in 2020. New Mexico is ranked 13th among all 50 states for percentage of its population who are 65 and older.

  • The 65+ population increased in each of New Mexico’s 33 counties from 2010 to 2020. Catron County had the highest percentage of county population ages 65+ and Lea County had the lowest percentage of population ages 65 and up.

  • New Mexico’s population of people ages zero to 17 decreased by 7.7% from 2010 to 2020. Nationally, the population of people ages zero to 17 decreased by 1.4% in the same ten-year period.

  • Four New Mexico counties saw an increase in percentage of population ages zero to 17. Eddy County (16.8%), Lea County (14.1%), Harding County (4.3%), and Los Alamos County (0.5%)

Jacqueline Miller, PhD, a demographer with Geospatial and Population Studies at UNM, produces independent population estimates and projections for the state.

“The 65+ cohort makes up a larger portion of our state, in part because of migration out of New Mexico by younger cohorts. The 65+ cohort has not left New Mexico at the same rate as younger cohorts,” Miller said. “New Mexico seniors are aging in place, rather than leaving the state like some of our working-age population. We are also seeing retirees move to New Mexico. These two trends combined result in a rapidly aging New Mexican population.”

New Mexico now ranks 13th out of the 50 states for its population of people older than 65, with 18.5% of its population ages 65 and older in 2020. Maine (21.8% ages 65+) recorded the highest percentage of population ages 65 and older. Utah (11.7% ages 65+) recorded the lowest percentage.

“This increase in New Mexico’s population over age 65 was expected,” Miller said. “Both our own projections from prior to the 2020 Census and projections produced by demographers at the University of Virginia projected that those age 65 and above would account for an increasing share of New Mexico’s population (18.4% and 19%, respectively). If current trends continue, we expect the 65+ population to account for over 22% of New Mexico’s Population in 2030.” 

New Mexico’s counties varied in percent of population ages 65 and up. Catron County had the largest 65+ population at 43.3%. Harding County, which counted 657 residents in 2020, recorded a 65+ population of 38.2%. Sierra County, the leader in 2010, came in third with 35.9% of the population ages 65 and up.

Lea County, which has seen an influx of working age population due to increased mining in the Permian Basin, had the smallest 65+ population at just 11.2%. Curry County (13.2%) was next, followed by McKinley County (13.4%) and Eddy County (14.2%).

The three largest decreases in zero to 17 populations were recorded in Catron County (-38.5%), Mora County (-33.8%) and Hidalgo County (-25.6%), which are also among the counties with the highest percentage of population over 65. Other older New Mexico counties did not have such a dramatic change in the ages zero to 17 population; Sierra County’s zero to 17 population percentage decreased by 7.6%, and the zero to 17 population in Harding County rose by 4%. 

Visit the Geospatial Population Studies website for more information.