The changing New Hampshire family

The experts say families are becoming more diverse, and the trend will continue

Editor’s Note: Included within this story are profiles of four families living in New Hampshire who were interviewed in May 2019 by writer Krysten Godfrey Maddocks.

Home can be the place you were born. It can be a place that you choose. It can be a place that chooses you.

But the concept of home, and of the family in New Hampshire, has evolved over the last several decades.

New Hampshire as a whole is changing right along with the rest of the country. Households are as likely to be headed by one parent as two. The households with two parents may be headed by two men or two women. More than one or two generations or even three generations may live under one roof. And there are more families of color and mixed-race families.

“The population is becoming more diverse,” Kenneth M. Johnson, senior demographer at the Carsey School of Public Policy at The University of New Hampshire, said. “All the growth that’s occurred in New Hampshire since 2010 has been growing more diverse … from 1990 when it was only 3 percent minority… (to) 9.5 percent minority as of 2017, which is the newest data available.

This is happening for a number of reasons, Johnson said, but one of the most important factors is that the white population in New Hampshire is aging. More whites are dying in the state than are being born right now. At the same time, there are more minority births than deaths and minority populations are migrating to the state at a modest rate.

Who are the people in our neighborhoods?

According to the most recent census numbers, Johnson said the largest minority population in New Hampshire as a whole is Hispanic (3.5 percent of the total population), followed by Asian (2.6 percent) and African American (1.2 percent).

“Many of the minority populations coming to New Hampshire are coming because they are skilled and because New Hampshire has opportunities for skilled, educated workers,” Johnson said.

Not all minorities coming to New Hampshire are coming from other countries, he said. Many are migrating to New Hampshire from Massachusetts and New York.

“The foreign-born population in New Hampshire is better educated than the New Hampshire-born population, and almost as well educated as people who are coming to New Hampshire from other states — that population is also better educated than the New Hampshire-born population,” Johnson said.

More than 6 percent of self-employed business owners in New Hampshire are immigrants and one in eight workers in New Hampshire’s professional, scientific and technical services industries is an immigrant, according to the American Immigration Council.

The largest share of immigrants in New Hampshire’s labor force, according to the AIC, work in farming, fishing and forestry (22 percent); computer and mathematical sciences (17.8 percent); and healthcare support (11.4 percent).

Emily Walton, an associate professor of sociology at Dartmouth College, has been studying diversity trends in the Upper Valley. The white population in that region, which includes Hanover and Lebanon, is about 87 percent.

“We’re even more diverse here than most places in New Hampshire,” Walton said. “So I think that the statewide data kind of masks some of the diversity that we’re actually seeing in some places in the state.”

In the Upper Valley, what is driving that trend is what is evident in the AIC numbers. Despite the rural locale, with Dartmouth College, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and several high-tech firms in the region, the Upper Valley has become a jobs hub that draws large minority populations, Walton said.

Manchester, too, is seeing significant growth in minority populations due to job opportunities available there, but also because it is one of three refugee resettlement cities in the state. Hillsborough County has about 30 percent of the population of the state, but almost 50 percent of the minority population in the state, Johnson said.

Since fiscal year 2011, 3,177 refugees have been resettled in New Hampshire. Of those groups, 1,242 have been settled in Manchester; 1,291 in Concord; and 622 in Nashua.

What change looks like

According to Johnson, of those younger than 18, about 15 percent are of a minority group. In contrast, adult minorities make up 8 percent of the state’s population that is older than 18. Also, 12 percent of New Hampshire births in 2016 were from minority groups. If you pair this information with the fact that 98 percent of the people who are dying in the state are white, the trend is that the state’s minority population is growing and younger.

It mirrors what is happening in the United States as a whole. “Future growth now depends on minority population gains, because the white population is no longer growing. Hispanics are the largest minority group and now account for the majority of U.S. population gain,   according to information published by the Carsey School for Public Policy in March 2019.

Another contrast is that, in the migrant and immigrant populations moving to New Hampshire, their families are more traditional than those in the non-immigrant populations. Walton said typically, immigrant families are professional with both parents living in the home and working.

Meanwhile, non-immigrant families in New Hampshire are mirroring national trends and are more often racially diverse and include same-sex couples, unmarried but cohabitating couples, singles living alone or with roommates, and single moms and dads.

“[There have been changes in] perceptions of individuals around these kinds of family formations and even gender norms as well are changing,” says Kristin Smith, a family demographer at the Carsey School. “We’re seeing the change in gender norms, seeing this change in individual choice norms. You can track that change and it’s very, very evident.”

Laws and public policies are also influencing this trend.

“In many states, it wasn’t legal to have a same-sex marriage and now it is,” Smith said. “These policy changes are more recent and we saw these changes before that, but there has been a loosening of regulations on individual choices surrounding things like who you love and whether or not you have children.”

The role of women in society has also helped boost this shift, Smith said. Women aren’t necessarily as apt to be married with kids by age 22. More women are delaying having children or not having children to be able to pursue education and careers.

“Because of these changing gender norms — if you look at popular media and magazines and books and this kind of thing — there’s encouragement of women to get an education, to be economically self -sufficient. Some of those messages and some of those changes are influencing family decision-making.”

Schools and communities

As for the folks moving into New Hampshire, while they are mainly coming here because of jobs and educational opportunities, New Hampshire isn’t seeing the kind of economic migration that you might see in bigger cities and bigger states.

“People are coming here because the jobs are here,” she said. “But it’s also … they love the natural beauty of the place. I hear that over and over. If it’s away from the hustle and bustle of the city, they feel like they have an opportunity to be part of the community because these communities are smaller.

“Because of the presence of young children and the types of jobs that they’re coming for, it’s an opportunity to make a home and be part of something, and that is sort of what’s driving people to come here.”

What that means, Walton said, is a lot of diversity in community schools. While this can present a challenge in terms of adding supports into the system, it also can be an enriching and rewarding experience for students.

“Central [in Manchester] is the oldest public high school in the state and probably one of the most diverse,” said Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig. “And I can tell you from my experience as a mother that the diversity of the school has really been a wonderful attribute that has really benefited my kid and kids in the district.”

Craig says roughly 60 different countries are represented in the school and nearly as many different languages are spoken by the students in the district.

“I really believe that it promotes and provides a new perspective and open mindedness and really prepares students for the real world,” Craig said. “This is who we are right now, and they’re experiencing this in their hometown, which is a wonderful thing.”

Walton said she’s seen an increase in school districts offering multicultural celebrations such as Diwali in schools. In Manchester, they are bringing in translators and using technology to help parents and students better communicate and become involved.

In towns and cities, there is also a push for greater integration of more diverse voices and points of view. In Manchester, for example, Mayor Craig said she and other officials have been encouraging younger people, women and ethnically diverse people to join local boards and commissions. She has also set up a Mayor’s Council on Immigration to help keep connected with the immigrant population in that city so it might better inform local policies.

Looking ahead

New Hampshire’s population is aging, particularly the white population, so there’s every reason to believe there’s going to be a decline in the white population in the future, Johnson said. The number of people over age 65 is probably going to double in New Hampshire in the next 10 to 15 years.

Also, “the number of children, white children, in New Hampshire and the number of white women of childbearing age in New Hampshire isn’t growing,” he said.

Johnson acknowledges that a significant part of the migration stream into New Hampshire is white, and this could shift the dynamic in the future if the number of white people migrating to New Hampshire jumped significantly. He also said, “There’s no reason to expect that’s going to happen. … my expectation is that the minority population in New Hampshire will continue to grow modestly in the future.”

Walton said she thinks the more we talk about these populations, particularly the individuals who are part of and are contributing to these communities, we can make progress.

“We need some way of, at a community level, of recognizing these are important people that are part of our community, this is why they’re here. This is their story. They’re just like you and me,” she said. “It would be an important way to help those families be part of the community.”

Melanie Plenda is an award-winning freelance journalist and mom based in Keene. Her work has appeared in The, The Daily Beast, American Baby, and among other media outlets.

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