Coastline population trends, 1960-2008

June 7, 2010

Maine has 5,300 miles of coastline with iconic rocky beaches, lighthouses, and island views. Coastal Maine’s physical features have remained much the same over time. But what about the population?

In May 2010, the US Census Bureau issued the report Coastline Population Trends in the United States: 1960 to 2008 (PDF). The report examines the changes in population that have occurred in the coastline counties of the United States. Coastline counties are those adjacent to water classified as either coastal water or territorial sea. Eight of Maine’s 16 counties are considered coastline: York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox, Waldo, Hancock, and Washington.

In 1960, 45.4% of Maine’s population lived within the coastline counties. The Census Bureau’s 2008 estimate has 54.2% of Maine’s population living in coastline counties. This increase of 8.8 percentage points is the highest of the 23 states in the nation with coastline counties.

Cumberland County, the coastline county containing Portland, Maine’s largest city, had the highest population in Maine in both 1960 and 2008. However, York County had the largest population growth during that time. The population of York County more than doubled from 99,402 in 1960 to 201,686 in 2008. Three counties experienced population decline from 1960 to 2008: Washington, Aroostook, and Piscataquis. Of the three, Washington was the only coastline county.

On average, Maine’s coastline counties are more densely populated than its non-coastline counties. The average population density of Maine’s non-coastline counties increased from 23.0 people per square mile in 1960 to 26.2 people per square mile in 2008. In contrast, the population density of Maine’s coastline counties increased from 56.5 people per square mile in 1960 to 91.7 people per square mile in 2008. Only Alaska and Oregon had less densely populated coastline counties in 2008.

Cumberland County was the most densely populated county in Maine in both 1960 and 2008 (218.7 and 330.4 people per square mile, respectively), while Piscataquis County, a non-coastline county, was the least densely populated (4.4 and 4.3 people per square mile in 1960 and 2008, respectively). Washington County, known as “Downeast Maine,” was the least densely populated of the coastline counties, with 12.8 people per square mile in 1960 and 12.7 people per square mile in 2008.

The percentage of Maine’s housing units in coastline counties increased 3.8 percentage points from 50.9% in 1960 to 54.7% in 2008. On average, Maine’s coastline counties have experienced more housing unit growth than its non-coastline counties. From 1960 to 2008, the number of housing units in Maine’s coastline counties more than doubled from 23,200 to 47,893. The number of housing units in Maine’s non-coastline counties grew 77.3% from 22,377 in 1960 to 39,667 in 2008.

Maine’s coastline population has been growing since the 1960s. More people have been moving to the coastline counties than to the non-coastline counties. From 2000 to 2008, Maine’s coastline counties had an average net migration of 3,044 while the non-coastline counties had an average net migration of 1,284. When data from the 2010 Census are released, we’ll know whether this pattern has continued during the economic challenges of the past few years.

Maine State Planning Office Economics and Demographics Team

Maine has 5,300 miles of coastline with iconic rocky beaches, lighthouses, and island views. Coastal Maine’s physical features have remained much the same over time. But what about the population?

Supporting documents

Maine Coastline Population Trends with Map (PDF)