Points of View

A Young West Michigan?

Alex Andrews

Each year the U.S. Census Bureau releases detailed population estimates at the county-level, illustrating how local populations vary across the nation by age, race, ethnicity, and gender. These estimates are vital to gleaning more about our local communities, while also enabling us to quantify the diversity of the region and the potential size of the labor force with respect to age. In this post, we’d like to look briefly at what the age composition of the West Michigan region looks like and how it’s changed over the past five years.

A Youthful Region in an Aging State

Adhering to a trend of several years, the West Michigan population remained younger than both the state of Michigan as a whole and the nation in 2017. Of the nearly 1.6 million residents living across the region last year, 26.5% of them were under the age of 20. This is slightly higher than the same proportion seen at the national-level (25.2%) and even higher than the proportion seen at the state-level (24.5%). Looking a little broader, 58.9% of the population in West Michigan was under the age of 45 in 2017, which is slightly higher than the United States (58.5%) and significantly higher than the state of Michigan (55.9%).

Although the region continues to be home to a younger population, West Michigan experienced the same overall aging trend seen across all geographies over the past five years. From 2012 to 2017, the population grew from 1.53 to 1.6 million residents, or just over 4.0%. However, the age categories seeing the largest growth tend to be in higher age brackets. The four youngest age brackets all saw drops in residents over the past five years, including residents Under 5 years old (-0.2%), 5 to 9 years (-1.0%), 10 to 14 years (-2.2%), and 15 to 19 years (-2.8%). Conversely, the population aged 65 years and over grew by 19.0%, due largely to the aging of the Baby Boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964).

Old and Young Counties in West Michigan

West Michigan features some of the oldest and youngest counties in the state and the nation. Although Mecosta County was the youngest county in West Michigan in 2012 with a median age of 34.4 — due, in large part, to the presence of Ferris State University in Big Rapids — Ottawa County has become the youngest in 2017, with a median age of 35.2. Kent County ranks a close second, at 35.3, while the median age in Mecosta County is now at 36.8.

These three counties are the only ones in the region to boast a younger median age than the national median of 38.0. With the addition of Ionia (38.5) and Muskegon (39.2) counties, there were five counties in West Michigan that were younger than the state median of 39.8 in 2017, with the remaining 8 counties possessing median ages between 39.9 and 53.1.

Future Data Topics

Have you been enjoying these “Data Points” blogs? Are you interested in other data? Let us know what topics you’d like to know more about on our Twitter @WMTalent2025! We’d like to crunch some numbers that you’re interested in.