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Mass. population to age more slowly, study suggests

An aging population is expected to stunt long-term growth in Massachusetts, according to a study released Wednesday by University of Massachusetts’ Donahue Institute’s Population Estimates Program, which found that the average age of the population is expected to increase by the year 2030.

The study was requested by Mass. Secretary of State William Galvin to aid communities in future planning and preparation. The results show the population aged 65 and over will go from 14 percent of the Commonwealth’s total population in 2010 to 21 percent by 2030. In turn, the population aged 19 and under is expected to go from 25 percent of the state population to just 22 percent by 2030, according to the study.

“This is for the state and local officials to have information that will assist them in their planning to have any study of the projected populations in five-year intervals of two decades,” said Brian McNiff, spokesman for Galvin’s office.

Some areas of the Commonwealth, including the Greater Boston, Central, and Metro West regions are predicted to grow at rates above the state average, according to the study.

“These should be viewed as a forecast of the future if all else remains the same, and we know in real life that doesn’t happen,” said Susan Strate, population estimates program manager at the UMass Donahue Institute. “But it is an interesting guide for people to look at, and to start to question and think about the future and how the course could be changed.” Since its release, Strate said the study has caused speculation over the economic and political impacts of an increasing older population.

“By 2030, Massachusetts’ over-65 population will represent one in five people in the state, which is a very large proportion and so you have fewer people in the workforce, more people retired, needing services and needing support,” she said.

Marta Murray-Close, professor of economics at University of Massachusetts Amherst, said the study indicates major effects on the dependency ratio.

“As far as demographers are concerned, the most important thing to think about is not so much average age, but the dependency ratio, which is the ratio of prime-age working adults to dependents which include children and the elderly,” she said.

McNiff said this study will be crucial for predicting possible impacts on political representation in the next few years.

“This will be the next census before we have another re-apportionment for Congress, and the re-apportionment depends on what happens in other states, as well as what happens here,” he said. “The same is true in the Legislature, which is redistributed in another ten years.”

Although there are some concerns over the potential loss of representatives in national legislature, Strate said the study provides a forecast that is subject to natural change in political and economic policy, and many factors could alter the projections.

“These are forecasts that are based on the assumptions that the trends that we’ve seen over the past ten years will continue into the future, and that in itself is a pretty large assumption,” she said. “There are so many policy changes and cultural phenomenon that could shift the trend that we’ve been looking at.”

Several residents said the aging population would have a negative effect on the city.

Maryanne Garrit, 57, of Allston, said this could change the way others view Boston.

“If [the] average age is much higher, Boston might not be considered a necessarily ‘young’ town,” she said. “It could also cause problems with the economy, and having more people who need lots of health care. It could end up weighing on the state heavily.”

Mike Hansen, 29, of Back Bay, said Boston’s reputation would take a hit if the population keeps aging.

“It could definitely be bad for Massachusetts’ representation in Congress because of a larger number of people who can’t work and are retired,” he said. “In the long run, it could really have an affect on the way people view Boston, and maybe give it a different reputation.”

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