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May 2013

When Demographic Analysis Causes Concern

In late December, the Census Bureau released its latest population estimates for the nation and states.  Since Michigan was the only state to lose population over the last decade, but appeared to be coming out of the recession on the back of a revived auto industry, I anticipated continued loss but hoped for a slight gain.  While Michigan’s July 2011 population was down from that of 2010, it was less than 1,000 residents – 956 to be exact – and was actually exceeded by Rhode Island.  This represented a great improvement over the average loss of almost 30,000 residents per year since 2004.

Since Ron Dzwonkowski at the Free Press and I are always discussing the latest Michigan population trends, I sent over my quick analysis for his information.  He called back immediately and said that he would like to do an editorial for the Sunday, January 1, 2012 edition.  I now quote from that editorial.

The positive spin from the latest Census Bureau report on state populations is that Michigan has stabilized. We still lost people last year, but the outward flow is down to a drip — not even 1% — and while we may never see 10 million again, we’re still No. 8 among the 50 states.  For a few more years, anyway.

But burrow into the data a little further and it shows a troubling trend. There’s an ever growing share of people like me in Michigan — over age 50, well over in my case — and no matter how important we think we are, there’s no future in us (unless you’re in health care, non-pediatric.)

According to demographer Kurt Metzger, director of Data Driven Detroit, 25% of the state population was over age 50 back in 1990. Twenty years later, it is more than 34% — and nearly 14% of the state is 65 or older. That’s a lot of “institutional knowledge,” sure, but with few exceptions, not a lot of invention, innovation, entrepreneurial energy or eagerness to embrace change. While that’s natural with aging, it also means that Michigan, in short, is growing more of what’s holding us back.

Who cares how many people are here? Who they are is what matters.

Among the 50 states, census data show Michigan ranks 42nd in births per 1,000 residents but 16th in deaths per thousand. So we’re doing better at longevity than reproductivity, and thus turning into a place that’s top heavy with older people.”

Allow me to add a couple more data points.  Michigan’s rank by age group:

Under 18 years – 25th

25 to 34 years – 47th

55 years and over – 16th


Now, back to the article.

“And compounding the slow birthrate, “we’re just not attracting any young people,” said Metzger.

Well, why would we when the dominant hair color young people see around here is Grecian Formula? So OK, those are the hard, gray numbers. They create some stark choices.  We can’t just let the gray keep growing. We can’t hide it with Grecian Formula. We can decide that maybe we’re too old for serious change, but Michigan, turning 175 this month, cannot afford to be.”

The week that followed brought with it outrage from aging advocates across the region. While I was credited for a thorough analysis, Ron was lambasted for “implying that the older population is the source of our problem.”  Several comments that I came across were of a tone that I wouldn’t even place in my blog.

It was suggested that a forum be convened on the economic and social implications of the aging population, to discuss some of the facts and myths regarding the impact of the graying population.  Several years ago I participated in a similar event in Oakland County that was titled “The Silver Tsunami.”

I welcomed the opportunity to be a part of such a forum, both because I love to present the demographics and because it won’t be long till I join the Medicare Generation.  So here we are:

The Aging Services Consortium of Detroit will present a forum on “The Graying of Our Population” to be held at the Luella Hannan Memorial Foundation, 4750 Woodward, Detroit 48201 on February 8, 2012 from 9:30 to 11:00 a.m. The panel will include Dr. Tom Jankowski of the Wayne State University Institute of Gerontology, myself and Ron Dzwonkowski .

Come and join us.  It should be fun.

Marriage Leads to A Longer Life! Come Join Me All You Singles!

g_ask_kurt_bustThere is a very old joke that goes something like this…”Married men live longer than single men…or maybe it just feels that way.”  Of course, being happily married, still my first, for quite a number of years, I can attest to the opposite – I feel great!

Now a new review of studies questions what singlehood brings to the table.  It says that, while singles may tout the benefits of their lifestyle, longevity is probably not one of them.

Researchers from the University of Louisville in Kentucky analyzed 90 past studies on the subject, and found that men who stay single may die eight to 17 years before married men, while women who stay single may die seven to 15 years before married women. Researchers said this could be attributed to the fact that there is more social support and public assistance for married couples. For example, a recent study showed that married men manage to get to a hospital for a heart attack sooner than single men.  Obviously there is someone complaining in the background that “you never want to go to the doctor!  You are going this time Mister!”

According to the new review in the American Journal of Epidemiology, single men have a 32 percent higher risk of death over their lifetimes compared with married men, while single women have a 23 percent higher risk of death over their lifetimes than married women.

A number of caveats and questions have been raised about the findings.

  1. The researchers looked at studies conducted on the subject that were published over the last 60 years.
  2. The analysis doesn’t take into account the impact of a bad marriage on longevity, certainly a negative contributor to health.
  3. The review of studies also only defined married people as people who remained married throughout their lives, not divorced or widowed people who were at once married but then became single. [However, a study of 67,000 Americans from 2006 showed that single people still tend to die sooner than widowed, divorced and separated people, in addition to married people.]

Since readers expect my blogs to contain some local data in the mix, allow me to provide some marital statistics.  These data represent residents of the 6-county (Lapeer, Livingston, Macomb, Oakland, St. Clair and Wayne) Detroit metropolitan area.  I decided to also use an age range of 25-64 years of age for my analysis.  I figured that those under 25 years are still looking and those who have made it to 65 years and beyond have done a good bit of living either married or single.

Looking at the numbers (see Table 1), we can see that, while the share of divorced residents went up slightly between 2000 and 2009, the real change occurred in the shift between the ‘now married’ and ‘single, never married’ categories.

Table 1.  Marital Status of Persons 25 – 64 Years of Age in Metropolitan Detroit

2000 2009
Never married 23.0% 28.2%
Now married 60.1% 54.7%
Separated 1.8% 1.8%
Other 2.4% 2.1%
Widowed 1.0% 1.0%
Divorced 11.7% 12.2%
Never married 19.4% 24.1%
Now married 61.5% 55.7%
Separated 2.5% 2.8%
Other 1.7% 1.8%
Widowed 3.8% 3.3%
Divorced 15.6% 16.0%


The share of single, never married males showed a significant increase, growing beyond 1 of every 4 in 2009, while their married counterparts decreased toward the 50 percent mark.  While a smaller share of women are single, never married (though they are much more likely to be single due to divorce or widowhood), that share still grew at a rate similar to that of males and now number 1 of every 4.  Combined with the other ‘single’ categories, the share of married females 25 to 64 years of age equals that for males.

The trend is clear – singlehood is growing in metro Detroit.  Will this lead to a decrease in years of life expectancy?  Stay tuned.  D3 will be there to track it.

Just remember:  Whether single or married, experts still say that life expectancy can be extended through exercise, staying positive, eating more fiber and having a friendly workplace.

The Obama Effect: African Americans turned out last year in record numbers

One of the narratives that has come front and center in the last two Presidential Elections is that of race in America, with an emphasis on its role in the  American political landscape .The 2008 election of Barack Obama was marked by increasing voter turnout rates for African Americans and younger voters. As these trends went against historical trends, many “students of voter behavior” were curious whether these trends would continue in the Congressional election of 2010 and the Presidential election of 2012.

William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution and a friend of Data Driven Detroit, analyzed the 2012 elections for the Associated Press using census data on eligible voters and turnout, along with November’s exit polling. He estimated total votes for Obama and Romney under a scenario where 2012 turnout rates for all racial groups matched those in 2004. Overall, 2012 voter turnout was roughly 58 percent, down from 62 percent in 2008 and 60 percent in 2004.[1]

The results of his analysis suggested that America’s blacks voted at a higher rate than other minority groups in 2012, and by most measures surpassed the white turnout for the first time. This reflected a polarized presidential election in which blacks strongly supported Barack Obama while some whites stayed home. Had people voted last November at the same rates they did in 2004, when black turnout was below its current historic levels, Republican Mitt Romney would have won narrowly.

Confirmation of the Obama EffectVoter Turnout Text_3

Wednesday May 8th’s release by the Census Bureau confirms Frey’s research and other surveys estimating a rise in African American voting in the last 2 presidential elections. Results of the 2012 Current Population Survey show that African Americans turned out to vote in 2012 at rates higher than any other race/ethnic group for the first time since the Census Bureau began collecting voting data by citizenship in 1996.

The 2012 results, in Figure 1, show that African American voter turnout exceeded that of White, non-Hispanics by 2.1 percent! This compares with a rate that had run 5 to 7 percentage points behind whites from 1996 through 2004. The first election of Barack Obama in 2008 brought with it a 4.7 percentage point increase for African Americans and a 1.1 percentage point decrease for whites. While white turnout took another 2 percent drop in 2012, African Americans increased by another 1.5 percentage points.

Figure 1_final

“The 2012 turnout is a milestone for blacks and a huge potential turning point,” said Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University who has written extensively on black politicians. “What it suggests is that there is an ‘Obama effect’ where people were motivated to support Barack Obama. But it also means that black turnout may not always be higher, if future races aren’t as salient.”

Changing Demographics & Future Elections

Census data and exit polling show that whites and blacks will remain the two largest racial groups of eligible voters for the next decade. Overall, the findings represent a tipping point for blacks, who for much of America’s history were disenfranchised and then effectively barred from voting until passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Last year’s heavy black turnout came despite concerns about the effect of new voter-identification laws on minority voting, outweighed by the desire to re-elect the first black president.

The numbers also offer a cautionary note to both Democrats and Republicans after Obama won in November with a historically low percentage of white supporters. While Latinos are now the biggest driver of U.S. population growth, they still trail whites and blacks in turnout and electoral share, because many of the Hispanics in the country are children or noncitizens.

The Asian and Latino populations continued to show turnout rates below 50 percent. This is not a factor of eligibility, however, because the Census Bureau has used a measure of citizenship to determine the eligible electorate.

It is clear that this new information will be critical inputs to the strategies pursued by both political parties. The increasing diversity of our electorate, marked by a slow growth African American population, a medium growth, immigration-based, Asian population, and a high growth, non-citizen Hispanic/Latino population, requires strategic investment on both sides of the political spectrum.

The turnout rates seen below bring forth a number of questions.

  • The white, non-Hispanic population is aging and decreasing in numbers. Was it the candidate choice that resulted in their decreased turnout or something else?
  • Will the increasing turnout of African Americans continue if there is no African American in the next Presidential race?
  • What are the strategies that need to be followed in order to get greater turnout for Asians and Latinos?

African American turnout, which trailed non-Hispanic whites by 7.7 percentage points in 1996, surpassed them by 2.1 percentage points in 2012. Both Asian and Latino turnout rates, while showing some variability over the years, have not moved in comparison to 1996 – still trailing non-Hispanic Whites by 17 and 16 percent, respectively.

Figure 2 provides one more way of looking at the 2012 results. Here we are comparing each group’s share of the electorate (eligible voters) with their share of actual voters. It is clear that both non-Hispanic Whites and African Americans are over-represented as voters, while Asians and Latinos are under-represented.

Figure 2_final

Gender’s Effect of Voter Turnout

There are subtexts to these trends and those involve the gender and age composition of voters within each of the major race/ethnic groups. Voting rates have historically varied according to gender. In every presidential election since 1996, women have voted at higher rates than men. The 2012 election produced a gap in the favor of women of some 4 percentage points. We can understand this gap in greater detail by looking at it across race and Hispanic origin.

Figure 3 provides a comparison of female voting rates to male voting rates. The differential for African Americans is by far the greatest and has remained high throughout the 16 year period. The 2012 differential was the highest over this period – 8.7 percentage points. The gap for non-Hispanic Whites has been consistent across the period and averaged less than half that for African Americans. While the gap for Latinos has decreased over the years, the Asian gap, which was the only to ever favor men, has increased to be close to that for non-Hispanic Whites.

Figure 3_final

Youth Today: What happened to the 18-24 year old voters?

We finish up this analysis with a quick look at age trends. In 2012, overall turnout rates decreased in comparison with both 2004 and 2008, a drop in voting characterized by large decreases in youth voting rates for all race groups and Hispanics. Statistically significant voting rate decreases were observed in the 18 to 24 years cohort across all three groups – non-Hispanic Whites, Blacks and Hispanics. The Census Bureau was not able to track age patterns within the Asian community.

What happened to the young voters who made all the noise in 2008? Have they lost their passion through voter-based civic engagement? How do candidates at all levels of government re-engage the young voter?

These data provide a great deal of food for thought. Data Driven Detroit is working diligently to provide web-based tools and resources for the elections of 2013. Detroit will be electing a new Mayor and a district-based City Council. D3 and the Michigan Nonprofit Association want to make sure that we do everything we can to get out the vote in November. Detroit has an opportunity to show that its citizens are engaged and ready to move the city forward.

Join us in that effort.

[1] His analysis also used population projections to estimate the shares of eligible voters by race group through 2030. The numbers are supplemented with material from the Pew Research Center and George Mason University associate professor Michael McDonald, a leader in the field of voter turnout who separately reviewed aggregate turnout levels across states, as well as AP interviews with the Census Bureau and other experts. The bureau is scheduled to release data on voter turnout in May (which I detail in a moment).