New Mexico population projections: an aging population and minimal growth

Albuquerque, NM (KKOB) — The number of older New Mexicans will continue to increase in the coming decades while total population change will remain flat. Stability will be due in large part to international migration, which will offset declining births and increasing deaths according to updated population projections by demographers from the University of New Mexico Geospatial & Population Studies (UNM-GPS).

New Mexico’s total population will remain flat 
New Mexico’s current population of 2.11 million is expected to grow slowly until around 2035 when total population will top out at 2.16 million. That’s an increase of around 50,000 people or 2.5% of the state population. The state population is then projected to begin an equally slow and steady decline until 2050 and beyond. 

“We are projecting some growth for New Mexico in the coming years, but the increases are small enough that minor shifts in births, deaths, and especially migration trends could easily push growth up or result in years of decline,” New Mexico State Demographer and UNM-GPS Director Robert Rhatigan said.

An aging population   
New Mexico’s population is aging. The number of New Mexicans aged 65 and older is expected to increase by over 200,000 over the next 20 years, a rise of more than 28%. By 2040, nearly 23% of New Mexicans will be 65 and older. In the 2020 Census, seniors accounted for 18% of the state’s population while in 2010, that figure was just 13%.

At the same time the number of New Mexicans 85 and older will more than double over the next 20 years from around 40,000 in 2020 to over 85,000 in 2040. 

“Our population is experiencing a rapidly changing age structure. New Mexico will have a greater share of seniors in the coming years while also experiencing a decline in the number of children and emerging adults,” UNM-GPS Senior Research Scientist Dr. Jacqueline Miller said.

Fewer births than deaths
The reasons for New Mexico’s aging are clear. More baby boomers are reaching retirement age each year and living longer. At the same time, New Mexicans are having fewer children each year. 

New Mexico’s 0 to 24 population is expected to be around 550,000 by 2040 which represents a decline of 20% over 20 years.  

“Births have been in a slow steady decline since 2008 with women having fewer children each year,” Miller said. “This trend should continue not only because women are having less children, but also because we have less women of childbearing age every year.” 

Beginning in 2020, the number of deaths in New Mexico began to exceed the number of births—a shift that arrived a few years sooner than expected due to COVID-related deaths in 2020 and 2021. Mortality rates have since normalized but because there are more older New Mexicans every year, the number of annual deaths will continue to rise and outpace births. 

Shifting migration patterns
New Mexico’s population growth was fueled by migration for its first century of statehood. However, since 2012 domestic migration has been negative, meaning that more US residents move out of New Mexico than into it each year. Since 2020, New Mexico has seen a net loss of about 6,000 people who have moved to other states according to figures from the US Census. 

The growth that New Mexico has experienced has come from international migration, which has added about 12,000 people since 2020. That’s not many people, but it’s enough to offset declines in domestic migration and natural change (births minus deaths). 

UNM-GPS demographers expect this trend to continue and emphasize that international migration will be key to growth or staving off population decline. They also point out that international migration is heavily dependent on federal immigration policy, a perennial hot-button issue. 

Urban growth and rural decline
Growth in New Mexico will be concentrated in metropolitan counties like Bernalillo, Sandoval, Valencia, Dona Ana, and Santa Fe. San Juan is the only metropolitan county projected to decline. Eddy and Lea Counties in the Permian Basin are projected to continue growing at relatively high rates although population trends in the Permian Basin are susceptible to the boom-and-bust cycles of the fossil fuel industry.  Rural counties in New Mexico will decline in population with the most rapid losses expected in small counties of under 5,000 people such as Mora, De Baca and Hidalgo counties all of which could see declines of 40% or more in the coming decades.