CONCORD, N.H.—Maine still has the edge in moose and lobster, but for the first time in more than two centuries, New Hampshire's human population exceeds that of its neighbor to the east.
Both states have about 1.3 million residents, but new U.S. Census Bureau estimates released Wednesday put New Hampshire's population ahead by 6,274 people. The last time New Hampshire's population exceeded that of Maine was in 1800, when it had 184,000 residents to Maine's 152,000.
The two states have long enjoyed friendly and sometimes not so friendly rivalries over everything from their college hockey teams to fall foliage bragging rights. For decades, they fought over ownership of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, located on an island in a river that divides the two states. (The U.S. Supreme Court sided with Maine in 2001.)
Demographer Kenneth Johnson at the University of New Hampshire said New Hampshire has been growing faster than Maine throughout the decade, gaining 89,000 new residents since 2000 compared to Maine's 43,000. Maine also has a much older population, which is evident in statistics that show only 12,000 more births than deaths in Maine from 2000-2009, compared to 43,000 in New Hampshire.
Maine was one of three states to lose residents between July 1, 2008, and July 1, 2009. The other two were Michigan and Rhode Island. Maine lost 1,309 people, compared to the 2,700 New Hampshire gained overall.
Charlie Colgan, a former state economist in Maine, said he expected New Hampshire to overtake Maine in population sooner. He noted that though the two states' rural and urban areas are similar, Maine's rural areas extend much farther across the state than New Hampshire's.
"A lot more of Maine is Coos County," he said, referring to New Hampshire's northernmost and most rural county. "Coos County is like much of Maine, but it's a relatively small part of New Hampshire and a much bigger part of Maine.... Just the proportion of that rural region makes up a huge part of the difference."
New Hampshire's growth has slowed in recent years, Johnson said. From 2000 to 2005, the number of people moving to the state exceeded those moving out by about 5,400 people a year. But last year, 2,600 more people left than arrived.
New Hampshire traditionally has relied on a substantial flow of people from Massachusetts to fuel its population growth, but over the last several years, migration from Massachusetts to New Hampshire has declined by 34 percent.
Massachusetts remains the most populous New England state, with just under 6.6 million residents. Connecticut is second with 3.5 million, followed by Rhode Island at 1.1 million. Vermont was the least populous at 622,000.
Massachusetts and New Hampshire each illustrate two national trends, Johnson said. In Massachusetts' case, states that traditionally lost population to other states are now gaining residents. As late as 2005, Massachusetts had 60,000 more people move out of state than moved in. This year, there were 3,600 more new arrivals than departures.
And New Hampshire, like other high growth states such as Florida and Nevada, are no longer benefiting from that migration, he said.
"So you can see sort of both sides of the story in the two states and the exchange between them," Johnson said.