Statistics show that 73% of Mainers live in lighthouses and the other 27% live in reclaimed bear dens. Photo by Karl Magnuson on Unsplash

A Brief History of Vacationlanders

It Mattered, Once

Today I want to talk about Maine. I’ve never been to Maine. I’ve only ever really known about 3 people from Maine. Before I did the research for this post, my view of Maine was basically as where people from Boston go for a long weekend. In other words, I am not a specialist on Maine.

But when looking for research topics recently, several people encouraged me to look at Maine. So look I shall!

Let’s start with our usual basic question: how many people live in Maine?

Honestly, not that many! Maine’s population today is around 1.3 million people. But this graph obscures a lot of variation. So let’s look at just annual population growth rates.


Growth rates were very high in the late 1600s, then declined into the early 1700s. But then after British victory in the French and Indian War, growth picked up abruptly, remaining high through the American Revolution, when it began a precipitous fall. While the British had regulated settlement beyond the Appalachians, Maine had benefited from having a comparatively large amount of settleable land for the burgeoning Yankee population. But once new lands out west opened up, it lost its appeal, and growth plummeted. The decade of the 1860s actually saw Maine lose population. Unlike many states, Maine did not conduct a state Census in 1865–1867, so I can’t say how much of this decline was related to wartime losses and dislocations. However, it seems likely to have been substantial: approximately 1.5% of Maine’s 1860 population died as a result of the Civil War, and 11.2% were mobilized. That death rate is slightly higher than average for Union states. It is substantially higher than that experienced in Massachusetts, Connecticut, or Rhode Island, though about the same or a bit lower than the death rate seen in Vermont and New Hampshire. All of these states had similar rates of mobilization, but MA, CT, and RI disproportionately mobilized into the navy, where casualty rates were much lower.

It may surprise some readers to hear that the Union state with the highest Union-specific death rate, so exclusive of Confederate dead, was Kansas, at nearly 2.5% of its population having enrolled in the Union military and subsequently died as a result of the civil war. Illinois is next at 2%, with Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan just a hair behind. From there death rates drop sharply to around 1.5% for Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, Vermont, and New Hampshire. The lowest Union death rates among Union states are observed for many of the western states like Colorado, Nevada, and California, as well as border states like Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland, or maritime-heavy states like Rhode Island.

So the civil war probably accounts for a large share of Maine’s population decline. The ~10,000 war deaths alone probably account for more than 100% of the approximately 1,500 person decline in Maine’s population from 1860 to 1870.

Maine’s growth rates never make a historically game-changing rebound from the civil war. Modern population growth rates set in by the 1870s. So let’s zoom in on the post-1870 period.


From 1870 to WWI, Maine manages to have pretty steady population growth. Data quality improves in 1900, hence the spikier line. After WWI, Maine’s population returns to that trend growth rate, until WWII, when there’s a sharp fall. But then there’s a recovery post-war. Growth oscillates a fair amount in the 1950s and 1960s, but averages a little under 1%, similar to the previous periods. Finally, around 1970, Maine gets a fairly sustained growth period. There are boom-bust cycles, but from 1970 to the Great Recession, Maine manages to exploit its position as a low-regulation, low-tax, warm-climate Sunbelt state with big military-industrial investments during the Cold War to capture suburban expansion.

Hahahaha not. Actually they had basically none of those things. But they still managed to experience population growth until the Great Recession. They muddled through that period, but have recently returned to strong growth.

So what drives these trends?

Well, using a variety of data sources, we can try and tease out the components of population change. Here are my best estimates, going back as far as I can take them:


As you can see, Maine benefited from a substantial amount of international immigration, and lost domestic migrants pretty reliably, from 1850 through WWII. I should note that I think my 1924–1937 international migration estimates are too high… but the birth/death data is reliable, the domestic migration data also fits the available data, and the annual estimates are official Census numbers. So, it is what it is.

During WWII, Maine lost out to international migration (deployments) and domestic migration (wartime industry relocation). Post-war, Maine tended to have breakeven international migration, and negative domestic migration. Population growth came from the baby boom fairly exclusively duuring this time. But then in the 1970s, Maine got a wave of both international and domestic movers. By the 1980s, Maine was benefiting from robust domestic inflows.

But birth rates have steadily declined. During the great recession, deaths began to exceed births, even as migration was barely breakeven.

So let’s explore some of these trends. What’s going on with fertility?

Where Do Maine Babies Come From?

I can get age-controlled fertility data back to 1987. I don’t have it from before then, unfortunately.


Maine’s total fertility rate has been well below the national average for quite a while. It closely follows national trends, but at a lower level. The average woman turning 15 in Maine over the last 30 years could generally expect to have about 0.25 fewer kids. So her child would be born without legs.

I’m just kidding; the point is, a higher share would end up childless, or have one fewer kid.

However, residence changes over time. Maybe women reside in Maine for a low-fertility time in their life, but then move and end up having a perfectly normal number of babies! C’est possible. Wouldn’t help Maine’s population, but would suggest Maine itself isn’t associated with actually lower fertility.

One way we can check this is to look at birthplace, which does not change over time. Do women born in Maine have lower fertility? To check this, I use ACS data, which tags by birthplace. ACS TFR estimates are somewhat more volatile and less accurate than CDC estimates.


It turns out that Maine-born people have about the same age-adjusted fertility rates as native born people generally in recent years. And yet Maine residents do not. So residence in Maine is associated with lower fertility than birth in Maine, and Maine residents have much lower fertility than U.S. residents, despite the Maine-born not being lower than the U.S. born.

Several factors are at work here. One is immigration. Immigrants have more kids, and Maine has few immigrants, ergo, lower resident fertility than the national average. But that does not explain why all Maine residents have lower births than all women born in Maine.

To look at that, we need to break out fertility among Maine residents by birthplace: Maine, abroad, or elsewhere in the US.

First of all, let’s look at fertility for Maine-born people by place of residence.

Mainers in Maine have fewer kids than Mainers not in Maine. This was especially pronounced in the early 2000s, however I should say I’m a little bit skeptical of that 2.7 number. I think there may be some error in the data or odd locational categorization choices involved here. But whatever the case, even in recent years, Maine expats have more babies.

So what about within Maine?

Foreigners in Maine turn out to be fairly low-fertility! Maine’s foreign-born stock is not composed of high-fertility Latinos, but of lower-fertility groups. And meanwhile, domestic migrants in Maine formerly had higher fertility, but now have very similar fertility as Mainers.

So here’s what we can say:

Mainers who stay in Maine have lower fertility than Mainers who leave. Foreigners in Maine have lower fertility than foreigners outside of Maine. Domestic migrants in Maine have lower fertility than similar-birthplace people elsewhere in the US. So it does seem like there is something about Maine geographically, not so much Maine-origin, which reduces fertility. Whether this is due to time-selection or Maine thwarting desired fertility, I don’t have the data to say. But my bias is to suggest that it is a mixture of both. The people who choose to reside in Maine may bias towards having lower desired fertility, and also Maine may have economic conditions unfavorable to family formation. Whatever the case, the combined result of these fertility factors is a very low birth rate in Maine.

Another factor contributing to this is Maine’s aging population. For that, let’s pivot to the question of mortality.

Getting Old in Maine

Population aging is a big topic these days, and rightly so. It is a huge factor in numerous important political and economic questions. But some parts of the story are a bit tricky.

You might think, for example, that America’s grayest states became unusually aged in recent years. And in some cases you might be right. But in Maine, you’d be wrong. Here’s the average age in Maine vs. the nation on the whole:


As you can see, while Maine did have a burst of youthfulness where it caught the national average age in 1970, that was a break from its historic norm, and it has since returned to its aged status. In 1900, Maine was a whopping 5 years older than the nation on the whole: an impressive feat when the average age was just 26 years old.

In principle, this should cause Maine’s death rate to be decently high. Is that what we actually observe?


In recent years, yes! For the whole 20th century, it appears that Maine’s death rate was probably higher than the national crude death rate, largely due to an older population, though as you can see around the 1970s there’s a convergence.

But back in the 1800s, the trend flips. This is probably due to a mixture of racial differences, less poverty, and the fact that cooler climates generally are associated with lower mortality in the pre-climate-controlled-era.

So what does this look like today?


Maine’s age-adjusted death rate has been virtually identical to the national average since the early 1970s. Very recently in the post-recession years, it appears to be rising above the national rate somewhat. However, this data ends in 2016: 2017 will probably close the gap some as Maine’s crude birth rate in 20017 will probably fall, while the nation’s will probably rise.

Nonetheless, with population aging well underway, even stable or falling age-adjusted death rates will lead to increasing crude death rates. The result is a worsening balance of natural population change.


There are several ways to look at this chart. One is to see it as a long run secular trend with interruptions like the Baby Boom or the Civil War. Another is to see it as a stable series with occasional level shifts. I don’t much care which you see it as, because either method gives you the same conclusion for my purposes: barring a very substantial change to the core demographic function in Maine, they should expect continued natural decline.

But I want to return to an earlier issue. I mentioned Maine’s low foreign-born population. Let’s investigate immigration more systematically.

Do Canadians Really Count?

Maine’s history of immigration looks fairly conventional at first glance, but turns out to be quite odd.


Maine is a bit late to the party for immigration at first. The foreign-born share starts picking up after 1830, and by the 1840s is growing explosively. But Maine’s foreign-born population doesn’t really start booming until the 1860s, and keeps growing rapidly until 1910. Then, it follows the same decline as the rest of the country until 1970… and keeps going until 1990. Since then, it has churned for a while, and then shown a very modest amount of growth in recent years.

So you might think that this is a story of Maine being a late-bloomer for immigration, but then basically experiencing the same migration story as the nation on the whole during the age of open migration, and then just failing to capture immigrants in recent years, largely due to distance from the southwest border.

But you’d be wrong.

Here’s the same graph above, but broken out by Canadian-born, and all-other-foreign-born.


Canadians! They’re a big deal in Maine’s history! For most of the period where we have data, Canadians made up a larger share of Maine’s population than all other foreign origins combined. In 1910, one in ten Mainers was born in Canada! The horror!

That migration wave is what gives Maine its overall foreign-born population shape. Because if you compare “other” to “other” for Maine and the US, while Maine is much lower, the trends look very similar.

So a large part of Maine’s historic demographic experience is inextricably tied up with immigration from Canada. So what happened?

Well, let’s look at where in Maine these Canadians lived.

Most of Maine’s population is in the southwest corner of the state. On the whole, the Canadian population has a solid showing throughout virtually all of Maine: but they are particularly dominant in Aroostock County and other northerly counties, whereas they were far less dominant along the coasts.

This became a huge issue in the 1830s, when four regiments of militia were marched north for the purpose of dispossessing a large number of Canadian lumberjacks who had moved into Aroostock County. The so-called “Aroostock War” was generally bloodless, but did create a minor diplomatic crisis between the United States and and Great Britain, as the northern border of Maine had never been totally determined. Lumberjacks continued to be a large share of Canadian immigrants, although many also worked in growing textile mills and other industrial sectors.

Curiously enough, Canadian women who migrated for textile mill work and then returned to Canada to marry ended up having lower fertility than similar peers who did not migrate! Low-fertility-Maine strikes again!

But today, immigrants are a very small part of Maine’s demographic millieu. So let’s turn our attention to a different crowd: domestic migrants!

The Insecure Southern Border

With New Hampshire, That Is

For much of its history, Maine was a net-sender of domestic migrants. But in recent years, that has changed. Here’s my estimate of Maine’s historic net domestic migration:


Maine experienced a burst of settlers from the rest of the country, especially Massachusetts and other New England states, in the mid-to-late 1700s, carrying into the early 1800s. But by the end of that period, many Mainers were moving westwards towards upstate New York, Ohio, Michigan, and beyond. Throughout the 19th and first 2/3 of the 20th century, Maine was very much the “old world” of America, sending emigrants to western states that offered more opportunity, better lands, and less crowding in their cities and towns.

But then in the 1970s, that abruptly changed. Domestic migration turned positive. What happened? Well, here’s Maine population by birthplace, with a bit of smoothing and imputation.

The Maine-born population blows everything else out of the water. It is stagnant through the late 19th century, then grows until 1990, and has declined since then.

But let’s zoom in on the other origins.


Again you can see that familiar Canadian bubble, and the zig-zag of the “other foreign” population. But my focus now is on the domestic migrants.

From 1940 to 1970, there was comparatively little growth in the number of Maine residents born elsewhere in New England, or in the mid-Atlantic. There was, however, growth in the number born in the rest of the US. This wasn’t led by any particular state, but just a generalized increase in the number of residents born in all the other states. Some was southerners moving north, some was Yankee-descended midwesterners coming east.

But after 1970, this changed. There was an explosive growth in New England-born individuals as well as Mid-Atlantic-born. The 1970s to 1990s saw a huge surge in migration from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut particularly, as Maine offered less crowding, less urban density, and often a somewhat lower cost of living than the other New England states. Maine became Vacationland for some New Englanders, but it became home for many others.

I’m going to stop here. There’s tons of demographic trivia I could add in, more maps I could do, and of course I could discuss their economy. But this post is already long, and I’ve walked through Maine’s major demographic fundamentals. If people want more, or want a population forecasting model, you’re welcome to let me know! (I’ve never been to Maine…)

I will offer one last note. Here’s Maine’s share of national population:


Maine had a good run of it and, in the early republic, was pretty prominent. But basically from the War of 1812 onwards, Maine has been in steady decline in terms of its population prominence. Even if Maine gets some reasonable domestic migration, that decline is likely to continue apace, such that the day when Maine loses a House seat is not in the wildly distant future; at this rate, perhaps less than 40 years from now. And while that may seem like a long time, in the grand scheme of things, it really isn’t that long: it’s halfway through the life of a child born today. It’s around when I’ll be retiring. Today’s millennials in Maine will still have 5–10 presidential election cycles ahead of them when they may lose one of their electors. And losing an elector in Maine actually matters, because Maine allocates some of its electoral college vote based on who wins individual districts, which means those individual house seats each have weight in the presidential election.

I’m an Advisor at Demographic Intelligence, the nation’s leading producer of rigorous national- and regional birth and marriage forecasts. I’m also a Research Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, a Senior Contributor at The Federalist, and I write periodically for Vox’s Big Idea column. I’m a native of Wilmore, Kentucky, a graduate of Transylvania University, and also the George Washington University’s Elliott School. My real job is as an economist at USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, where I analyze and forecast cotton market conditions. I’m married to a kickass Kentucky woman named Ruth. I am not paid one penny by anybody for this blog post.

Follow me on Twitter to keep up with what I’m writing and reading. Follow my Medium Collection at In a State of Migration if you want updates when I write new posts. And if you’re writing about migration too, feel free to submit a post to the collection!

Check out my Podcast about the history of American migration.

DISCLAIMER: My posts are not endorsed by and do not in any way represent the opinions of the United States government or any branch, department, agency, or division of it. My writing represents exclusively my own opinions. I did not receive any financial support or remuneration from any party for this research.

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