The growth or decline in a population takes place across thousands or millions of individual lives, but significant increases or decreases in population have significant effects on everyone in the community. City planners and business owners are particularly interested not just in the overall size of their city's population and its growth or decline, but of the proportion of young people to old. A growing young population means more families and children, and in the future means more demand for schools. More young people means more future customers, which in turn leads to a demand for more jobs and for more workers, leads to higher tax revenues, and promises more support for the elderly. For a growth-driven economy unconcerned with environmental costs, growing populations are inherently a good thing. Publications of the period, whether official state documents or municipal public relations materials, would frequently mention population figures from the latest census for each town and state, and would keep track of net gains and losses in population. We too can examine the health of their community, using the information from Willimantic's 1910 census to explore its age composition.

Population Pyramids

  Acording to the census, the population of Willimantic in 1910 was 10,831 residents. They ranged in age from newborn infants to two 90 year old women, one of whom was born under the presidency of James Monroe, a Founding Father. Although Willimantic was only 15% of the land area of the township of Windham, it contained 86% of its people in 1910.

Since at least the 1920s, demographers have used a 'population pyramid' to visualize the distribution of gender in a given population across age groups, at a specific point in time. The shape of the visualization describes the demographic regime at that moment. To have a traditional “pyramid” shape in a population pyramid, the society or area being studied is usually pre-industrial, due to the fact that people are having lots of kids, and the life expectancy is low, thus giving the pyramid a wide base, and it gradually narrows as people die over time. Scholars contrast this traditional pyramid shape to the 'demographic transition' that has occurred in developed societies where death rates have fallen (influenced by medical science and public health measures, including maternal nutrition), leading to falling birth rates as more infants survive into adulthood and parents can assume they will be supported in old age despite having fewer children. Greater availability of birth control methods have also played a critical role in allowing parents to limit their number of children; an increase in women in the workforce also plays its part. A third important factor for change in population is migration, affected by push and pull factors, including laws about immigration and, in the case of Willimantic, advertisements by the mills to hire young workers to come to Willimantic. Because of the complex interplay of these factors, and because migration means that we cannot know whether the older people in our age pyramid lived their entire lives in Willimantic, it is not always easy to determine why exactly some age-gender groups grow and shrink.


Age pyramid for Willimantic in 1910 created by Dr. Jamel Ostwald.

1910 Population by Age

As can be seen in the age pyramid constructed by Dr. Ostwald based on a transcription project of the 1910 census by Dr. Pocock and Dr. Kirchmann, the shape of the age pyramid for Willimantic in 1910 is contractive. There is a notable bulge in the age group of residents between ages 15 and 24. The largest age group is the one that ranges from ages 15-19 for both genders. Based on this age pyramid, it can be determined that Willimantic in 1910 was a city with a predominantly young population. A possible reason for this may be immigration or high birth rates given there is a bigger amount of youth then middle aged people. Further research with the census could help answer this question.


Age pyramid for Willimantic in 2020 that excludes Eastern Connecticut State University residential students. Created by Dr. Jamel Ostwald.

2020 Population by Age

 When studying the population pyramid of Willimantic, the shape can be compared to an egg or tree, slim at the top and bottom with a little girth in the lower half, not counting the abnormal spikes at ages 20-30. This characterizes the population pyramid of Willimantic as a negative growth population pyramid.

  The population of Willimantic in 2020 was an overall young population. 42% of the population is aged 10 to 29, almost half of the population. 24% of the population is aged 30 to 49. Residents aged 15-24 would be even larger if we include students living in Willimantic who attend Eastern Connecticut State University and nearby University of Connecticut in Storrs (town of Mansfield).

The low number of children ages 0-4 might be due to several causes. One possibility is undereporting, especially in the context of political debates over citizenship and immigration and the 2020 census. More generally, we know that many industrial and post-industrial countries have a similar shortage of children - in the United States, this is especially the case in the Northeast.

1910 and 2020: Analysis

    Some things are clear, in 1910 Willimantic had a predominantly large teenage and early adult population. If we look at the unadjusted age pyramid for Willimantic in 2020, there is also a large population of young adults and teenagers. Although a predominantly young population was present almost a century apart, it was for almost opposite reasons. In 1910 young people, especially women, were being recruited by the textile mills in town to work as they were cheaper labor in comparison to men. In 2020 the youthful population is because people moved to Willimantic to receive a college education in Eastern Connecticut State University. In the age pyramid that is adjusted to not include residential students at ECSU, there is still a higher population of young adults.