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New USM Muskie School report finds Maine more diverse, provides insights into shifts in Maine’s population and housing

PORTLAND- Though Maine still has the oldest population in the nation, it is becoming more ethnically diverse. This is just one of the key findings from “Changing Maine: Maine’s Changing Population and Housing 1990-2010, a new report by the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, which provides insights into Maine’s population growth, demographics, households, and housing over the past two decades.

With funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, students and faculty in the community planning and development program at the USM Muskie School analyzed data from the 2010 Census of Population and Housing and the 2006-2010 American Community Survey, as well as supplemental data from the Internal Revenue Service and New England Economic Partnership to demonstrate how Maine is changing as a state.  

Among the key findings:

Slower than average population growth: From 2000-2010, Maine’s population grew by 53,265 or 4.2 percent, which was faster than between 1990 and 2000 (3.8 percent) but significantly slower than the U.S. (9.7 percent). Over the past 20 years, Maine added 100,260 or 8.2 percent (an average annual growth of .04 percent) to its population.  Population growth over the last decade was driven primarily by significant in-migration from 2000 to about 2005; after 2005 in-migration slowed significantly and turned negative at the end of the decade due to the recession.

Coastal regions show little growth: Within the state, Maine population growth was more evenly spread.  Coastal regions, particularly the mid-coast and southern coast, showed little population growth, while inland and “rim” counties showed more growth as a whole.  Aroostook and Washington counties continued to lose population.

Significant growth in metros: Maine’s urban areas including the metropolitan areas of Portland, Bangor, and Lewiston-Auburn; the micropolitan areas of Augusta, Rockland, and Sanford; and the service centers such as Ellsworth and Farmington together accounted for 87 percent of all population growth in Maine over 2000-2010.  With the metropolitan areas, significant population growth occurred in the central cities for the first time in four decades.

More ethnically diverse population: Though Maine’s population is still overwhelmingly white (95 percent), the proportion of non-whites has nearly tripled over the past 20 years. Black and Asian/Pacific Islander populations have more than doubled, while the largest growth rate has been in “other races.” The non-white and Hispanic population increased in every county in Maine.

Smaller young population: Maine is the “oldest state in the country” by median age (42.7 compared with the U.S. median age of 37.2), followed closely by New Hampshire and Vermont.  Maine’s older median age is largely a function of a smaller young population (population under 34 is 43 percent of Maine vs. 47 percent of U.S.) as well as a larger population over 65 (16 percent of Maine vs. 14 percent for the U.S.)  The population 18-34 years old in Maine has fallen by 21 percent over the past two decades.

Increase in female-headed households: Fewer Maine people are living in traditional families. There has been a drop in male-headed households (3 percent) and a significant increase in female-headed households (20 percent).  Average household size in Maine continued to drop, from 2.39 to 2.32 in 2010, which is smaller than the U.S. average household size of 3.14.

Growth in seasonal housing: Maine’s housing boom during the past decade was heavily influenced by growth in seasonal housing, particularly in inland areas near lakes and mountains.  Despite significant reductions in housing prices due to the recession, housing affordability remains an issue throughout Maine as real household incomes have fallen along with prices.

“The 2010 Census shows that many of the stories we have told about Maine’s population are no longer as clear as they once were,” said Dr. Charles Colgan, who directed the project.  “Inland and northern counties saw more population growth than in the 1990s, and coastal counties’ growth slowed, in some cases dramatically.  Maine is becoming more ethnically diverse everywhere, and our aging population is driven as much by a lack of young people as an abundance of old people.”

The study was conducted as part of the Sustainability Solutions Initiative, a partnership between USM, the University of Maine, and other institutions of higher education throughout the state.

Copies are available online at:

Changing Maine