Last year, more people died than were born in nearly one-quarter of all U.S. counties, a new study shows

This trend, known as natural decrease, is the result of younger people moving away, as well as decreases in fertility levels. Researchers from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) also found that rural areas are particularly hard hit by the natural population decrease, which is taking a toll on local schools, hospitals, and other family services.

Death vs Birth Rates

Last year, 24 percent of all U.S. counties experienced a natural decrease. And, for the first time in U.S. history, deaths now exceed births in an entire state,” Kenneth Johnson, senior demographer with the Carsey Institute and professor of sociology at UNH, said in a university news release.

The state to which Johnson referred was West Virginia, the study revealed. Another key study finding: more than 90 percent of U.S. counties with a natural decrease are in rural America.

Many agricultural counties have sustained decades of out-migration by young adults, leaving behind fewer young families of childbearing age. The natural decrease also is observed in many rural counties classified as retirement destinations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” Johnson added.

The researchers pointed out natural decrease can have significant adverse effects on essential services and institutions that form the foundation of American communities.

The viability of local schools becomes precarious as the student and parent populations diminish. With fewer births and children, the delivery of obstetric and pediatric services by local hospitals and physicians also becomes increasingly problematic — leaving the few remaining prospective parents to travel to distant hospitals and physicians for prenatal and well-baby care that reduces the risks to vulnerable mothers and children. The provision of daycare and family services is also difficult when families with children are few and scattered,” Johnson explained.

And, the needs of families and children may get less attention in the political arena than those of the growing senior population,” he concluded.

More information

The U.S. Census Bureau provides detailed statistics on U.S. births, deaths, marriages, and divorces in 2011.

SOURCE: The University of New Hampshire, news release, June 14, 2011

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