Lakes Region, Southern White Mountains and certain larger communities have fastest population growth

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New Hampshire’s population grew by about 23,400 (1.7 percent) between July 2020 and July 2023, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Recently-released data show that growth was not evenly distributed among communities within New Hampshire. Within the state, 25 communities had population declines between July 2020 and July 2023, while 88 grew more slowly than the state overall, and 120 had faster growth rates. The remaining 26 communities, mostly very low-population townships in northern New Hampshire, had no estimated population change. 

New Hampshire’s fastest-growing communities between 2020 and 2023 were a combination of communities near amenity-rich areas in the Lakes Region, close to the White Mountains, and in or near hubs of economic activity.  

The towns with the highest growth rates in the Lakes Region, particularly Carroll County, included Brookfield, which added 66 people (8.7 percent) to its population, as well as Tuftonboro (146 people, 5.9 percent), Moultonborough (281 people, 5.7 percent), Wakefield (267 people, 5.1 percent), and Effingham (76 people, 4.5 percent). Closer to the White Mountains but still in Carroll County, relatively significant percentage growth also occurred in Madison (138 people, 5.4 percent), Eaton (21 people, 5.2 percent), Conway (441 people, 4.5 percent), and Sandwich (66 people, 4.5 percent). Carroll County had the state’s oldest overall population, with a median age of 53.8 years in the 2018-2022 time period; while the total Carroll County population was the third-lowest in the state in 2023, it grew faster as a percentage of its 1990 population than any other New Hampshire county between 1990 and 2020. 

Carroll County’s growth may be a result of its proximity to areas in the lakes and mountains that are potentially popular for recreation or retirement. People also may have been moving into second homes that they owned before 2020 but did not live in throughout the entire year before retiring or before expanded remote work opportunities were generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Certain communities outside of Carroll County that have access to natural amenities also grew relatively quickly in the 2020-2023 period, including Thornton (130 people, 4.8 percent), Sugar Hill (30 people, 4.6 percent), and Franconia (46 people, 4.2 percent) in the western White Mountains, and Springfield (61 people, 4.9 percent), Croydon (39 people, 4.8 percent), and New London (90 people, 4.1 percent) in the Lake Sunapee region. Population growth in rural areas may interact with an increasingly constrained housing market, as median home sale prices grew faster in rural northern and western counties in New Hampshire than in the southeastern part of the state, potentially reflecting a growing preference for rural areas among homebuyers. 

Faster growth rates also occurred in larger communities throughout the state, as did more substantial population gains relative to the total number of people added to the state’s residents. Population growth of an estimated more than 1,000 residents occurred in Merrimack (2,081 people, 7.8 percent), Salem (1,268 people, 4.2 percent), Lebanon (1,044 people, 7.3 percent), and Rochester (1,002 people, 3.1 percent). Certain suburban towns near cities also experienced substantial growth in the 2020-2023 period, such as Epping (406 people, 5.7 percent), Pembroke (319 people, 4.4 percent), and Hollis (359 people, 4.3 percent). However, growth was uneven in suburban communities, with particularly slow population increases near the Seacoast outside of Portsmouth, and static or declining populations in Derry (-59 people, -0.2 percent), Goffstown (-35 people, -0.2 percent), and Plaistow (with a net population loss of one person). 

Other cities in the state had varying population changes. Following faster growth in Lebanon and Rochester, the Seacoast cities of Portsmouth (741 people, 3.4 percent), Somersworth (263 people, 2.2 percent), and Dover (709 people, 2.2 percent) grew faster than the overall statewide rate. Three cities, Manchester (-34 people, -0.03 percent), Nashua (-196 people, -0.2 percent), and Keene (-134 people, -0.6 percent) lost population between 2020 and 2023, by the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimates.  

New Hampshire’s population grew faster on an annual basis in 2020-2023 than it did in the years between 2010 and 2020. However, the population growth last decade was uneven, with Coos, Sullivan, and Cheshire Counties losing population between the 2010 and 2020 U.S. Census counts. Between 2020 and 2023, every New Hampshire county gained population, reflecting the nationwide rise in populations in rural areas. This trend has impacted New England’s population, as Maine and New Hampshire were the fastest-growing states in the region due entirely to migration; deaths substantially outnumbered births in both states, and births only exceeded deaths in Massachusetts among the six New England states. Reliance on migration for population growth increases the importance of available and affordable housing for the state’s economy. However, high costs and the lack of available housing may be limiting the ability of people to move to the state, with slow population growth in New Hampshire’s Seacoast communities providing a potential example of unaffordable prices and very limited supplies of housing severely restricting population growth.

Phil Sletten is the research director at the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonprofit, independent policy research organization based in Concord and focused on the state budget, New Hampshire’s economy, and policies affecting Granite Staters, particularly those with low and moderate incomes.