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The State of Health in New Mexico 2018

18. Demographic Characteristics

New Mexico's People

Urban and Rural

New Mexico is the fifth largest U.S. state in terms of land area, but in 2016, was only the 36th most populous state. New Mexico's population is not evenly distributed across the state geographically. In 2016, two-thirds of New Mexico's estimated 2,103,586 residents lived in the six most populous counties (Bernalillo, Los Alamos, Santa Fe, Valencia, Dona Ana and Sandoval counties). Those six counties have an average population density of 80.9 persons per square mile, compared with 6.9 persons per square mile in the remaining 27 counties (Figure 1). Providing health care and public health services in rural areas poses challenges such as the ability to hire and maintain full-time clinicians and specialists, and the great distances that many people have to travel to get care.

Age Distribution

Continued growth of our older adult population in New Mexico is expected. Based on population estimates provided by the University of New Mexico Geospatial and Population Studies Program, in 1990, 11.1% of people in New Mexico were aged 65 years or older. By 2010, 13.3% of New Mexico's population was 65 years or older, and by 2016, the figure was 16.5% (Figure 2). According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, by 2030, persons in this age group will comprise over 20% of the U.S. population. And the proportion of New Mexico's aged 65 and over population is outpacing that of other states. In 2000, New Mexico ranked 37th highest among all states for percentage of the population aged 65 or over. By 2016 we'd moved up 23 spots to 14th.

The age dependency ratio is an indicator of the amount of burden that non-working individuals in society place on the working-aged population. A high ratio indicates a high proportion of non-working individuals compared to working-aged individuals. Working-aged individuals tend to pay much more in taxes, while seniors aged 65 or older and children younger than age 15 are likely to be socially and/or economically dependent on the working-age population, putting additional demands on New Mexico families and health services. New Mexico's age dependency ratio in 2016 was 56.1, compared with 51.8 in the U.S. The age dependency ratio in both New Mexico and the U.S. has been on the rise since 2011. The highest age dependency ratios are primarily in rural areas of New Mexico (Figure 3).

Race and Ethnicity

New Mexico's population distribution by race and ethnicity is strikingly different from that of the United States overall, with smaller proportions of persons who are Black or Asian, and larger proportions of persons who are American Indian or Hispanic. White persons comprised a minority (39%) of the state's population in 2016.

New Mexico's American Indian population includes part of the Navajo Nation, 19 pueblos, and two Apache tribes (Jicarilla and Mescalero Apache). Most of New Mexico's American Indian tribes have lived on their current lands for hundreds or thousands of years - since before Francisco Vásquez de Coronado arrived in 1541 - and disparities in health status between American Indians and other groups in the United States have persisted throughout the 500 years since. Some have argued that American Indian health disparities are the product of the disrupted social conditions of colonization, while others emphasize socioeconomic conditions or access to health care, though the two explanations are not mutually exclusive.

American Indian and Alaska Native New Mexicans have relatively poor health outcomes on a number of important measures of health status, including life expectancy and deaths due to unintentional injuries, diabetes and alcohol. However, compared to the state, overall, American Indian/Alaska Native New Mexicans are more likely to consume fruits and vegetables, and have lower death rates from heart disease and cancer - the state's two leading causes of death.

Assets and Resources

Community health centers serve as a comprehensive and cost effective primary health care option for New Mexico's most underserved communities. Health centers serve everyone regardless of ability to pay or insurance status. In 2015, community health centers provided health services to over 300,000 New Mexicans at 171 sites across the state.


New Mexico's geographically sparse and aging population puts pressure on its health care system. The racial and ethnic diversity of the state compared to the U.S. poses challenges in providing culturally-sensitive health care. Although health disparities sometimes bend in favor of New Mexico's non-White populations, especially for the state's two leading causes of death, cancer and heart disease, more often non-White New Mexicans suffer higher rates of death, injury and disease and lower life expectancies that Whites. References

Figure 1. Population Density by County, New Mexico, 2016 Population Density by County, New Mexico, 2016 Sources: UNM GPS Program, U.S. Census Bureau Figure 2. Percentage Aged 65 and Over by Year, New Mexico, 1990-2016 Age 65+, NM and U.S. by Year Sources: UNM GPS Program Figure 3. Age Dependency Ratio by Small Area, New Mexico, 2016 Age Dependency Ratio, New Mexico, 2016 Sources: UNM GPS Program
The information provided above is from the New Mexico Department of Health's NM-IBIS web site ( The information published on this website may be reproduced without permission. Please use the following citation: "Retrieved Wed, 16 June 2021 from New Mexico Department of Health, Indicator-Based Information System for Public Health Web site:".

Content updated: Wed, 13 Jun 2018 11:51:07 MDT