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Rising Number Of Rural Communities See More Deaths Than Births

By Diette Courrégé Casey — June 16, 2011 1 min read
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New research released this week by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire shows that more residents are dying than being born in an increasing number of communities, and rural areas are among the hardest hit.

Although this brief isn’t specifically about education, it has important implications for schools in rural areas.

Natural decreases occur when young adults of child-bearing age leave an area, and the remaining residents mostly are older and more likely to die. More than 90 percent of the U.S. counties experiencing this phenomena are in rural areas.

Between 2000 and 2009, 750 rural counties, or 36 percent of all rural counties, had more people die than be born, up from 29 percent in the 1990s.

Why does this matter to schools? The article says it best:

“Natural decrease ... has implications that reach far beyond demography to institutions that are the bedrock of communities. The viability of local schools becomes precarious as the student and parent populations diminish. ... And, the needs of families and children may get less attention in the political arena than those of the growing senior population.”

The research goes on to identify regions where natural decreases are concentrated, and farming communities are the most likely to experience this situation. Nearly 50 percent saw natural decreases between 2000 and 2009.

Will the population drops continue? It’s highly likely, according to the research. Ninety percent of the counties that experience natural decrease once do so again. Still, it’s not a demographic certainty because of the influx of immigrants in some areas.

“With few young adults and a growing older population, the future viability of many natural decrease areas is not encouraging. Demography is not destiny, but one ignores it at their peril,” according to the study.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.