How Madison County, Idaho Became The Youngest Place In America

Jun 26, 2014

About 25,000 people live in Rexburg, Idaho. This is a view of downtown.
About 25,000 people live in Rexburg, Idaho. This is a view of downtown.
Credit Ken Lund / Flickr Creative Commons

New federal population figures out Thursday show the nation’s youngest county is in the midst of eastern Idaho's potato country. Madison County, Idaho.

To give you a comparison, the median age of the United States is almost 38. The median age of Madison County is 23-years-old. That’s the lowest in the country. And there’s one big reason.

Madison County is home to Brigham Young University-Idaho.

College students like Matt Urick, a recent BYU-Idaho graduate, are considered part of a county’s population if they live there most of the time.

And the 13,000-student Mormon school has an outsized influence on this little (37,400-person) county near the Teton mountains. But there’s something else. More than one out of four BYU-Idaho students is married. And many of those students have started having children.

“Any time my wife and I go out to eat, there’s kids all the time, whether they’re at the table next to you or whenever we go do anything in the community -- people hike with their kids. Yeah, this place is crawling with kids,” says Urick.

Seventy percent of the population in Madison County is under the age of 30. That’s high even compared with other counties with university towns. Take Latah County, home to the University of Idaho. There, 52 percent of the population is under 30.

And youth has its benefits. Madison County is the healthiest county in Idaho, according to a ranking by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. But it also ranks high in poverty counts because college students don’t have much income.

Janet Goodliffe of the Madison School District says all those kids have given the schools a surge in enrollment. She says the shift started happening in 2001, when Ricks College in Rexburg became BYU-Idaho and expanded to a four-year school.

“You see new schools being built, new facilities needed,." Goodliffe says. "We’ve built a new high school, two new elementary schools.”

But even the nation’s youngest county is getting older like the rest of the U.S. In Madison County, the population is aging slowly. Between 2010 and 2013, Madison County’s median age increased by half a percentage point.

Statewide, the median age in Idaho ticked up slightly to 35.5. Washington crept up to 37.5 and Oregon to 39.

Copyright 2014 Northwest News Network