Aging New Mexico faces demographic challenges, report shows

State’s population will remain stable, mostly because of international migration, offsetting deaths and a declining birth rate.
Thoreau, New Mexico

New Mexico won't have population growth in the coming decades, and the population will age, according to updated population projections by demographers from the University of New Mexico Geospatial & Population Studies (UNM-GPS).

The population will remain stable, mostly because of international migration, offsetting deaths and a declining birth rate.

The report projects that New Mexico, which has 2.11 million people, will see its population peak at 2.16 million in 2036. However, it will slowly 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 in a press release from the University of New Mexico.

In the next 20 years, New Mexico will have over 200,000 more residents ages 65 and older than it does now. By 2040, about 23% of the state's population will be senior citizens; that was true of just 18% of the state's population in 2020.

The state's 85 and over population will also more than double over the next 20 years from about 40,000 people to over 85,000.

“Our population is experiencing a rapidly changing age structure," UNM-GPS Senior Research Scientist Dr. Jacqueline Miller said. "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.”

A few reasons exist for these demographic changes. Most notably, baby boomers are reaching retirement age, and life expectancy is increasing. Conversely, New Mexicans are having fewer children.

By 2040, the state's under-25 population will be about 550,000 people, the projections said. That represents a 20% decline over 20 years.

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

Starting in 2020, the number of deaths in the state started to exceed the number of births; this happened sooner than demographers expected due to the coronavirus pandemic, the report said. However, even with those excessive deaths no longer happening, demographers expect that trend to continue.

Since 2012, New Mexico has endured net negative domestic migration; it has seen a net loss of about 6,000 people due to domestic migration since 2020, the report said.

However, New Mexico adds people via international migration; it has received, on net, about 12,000 people this way since 2020. Still, that does not offset the state's declines due to deaths and outward migration.

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

Most population growth in New Mexico will happen in metropolitan counties like Bernalillo, Sandoval, Valencia, Dona Ana, and Santa Fe. Meanwhile, rural counties like Mora, De Baca, and Hidalgo may see at least a 40% population decline.

An older and more urban population is not a challenge unique to New Mexico. Roughly 20 states now have more deaths than births each year, while countries like Japan, South Korea, and many places in Western Europe are facing the same issue.

"Growing populations are often seen as a critical component of growing economies," the release said. "Planning and innovation will be needed to prepare for the significant impacts that shifting demographics will have on housing, healthcare, schools, and tax bases. "

Demographers base population projections on birth, death, and migration trends. Changes to any of these three components would alter the projected trajectory. Migration is the least predictable of the three and has the potential to significantly alter projections, the release said.

"These latest population projections from UNM-GPS are based on detailed age data from the 2020 Census that was published by the Census Bureau in 2023," the release said. "The Census Bureau does not publish state population projections, and many New Mexico state agencies, businesses, and non-profits depend on these impartial projections from UNM-GPS."