Rock Bottom Line || WAY More Than 50 Shades of Gray on our Rock

Posted in Blogs, Feature

March 9, 2016

OK, I admit it. I’m old. Even by Whidbey Island standards. I’m not a millennial, or a Gen Y’er or a Gen X’er, or even a Baby Boomer.

I’m a War Baby. No, not the one in Iraq and Afghanistan, not the Gulf War, not Vietnam, not Korea, nor any of the other military mis-adventures through which I’ve lived. I’m talking the Big One. Dubya-Dubya-Eye-Eye. The Greatest Generation and so forth.

But enough of this. No reason to tell you my exact birthdate; Social Security and Medicare already know it.

What got me started on this age rant was some fascinating demographic information about our beloved Rock that I’ve examined recently as part of my seemingly endless quest for occasionally useful information. Much of what follows comes from a very good website called

AdobeStock_31323627_WM.jpegOf Whidbey’s estimated population of about 78,500, the median age (half above, half below) is 43.2 years. For Washington State it’s 36.4 years and for the entire United States it’s 36.8. Dig a little deeper and it gets even more interesting.


Mirror, mirror on the wall: Which Whidbey town is grayest of all? It’s Langley (aka 98260), of course, with a median age of 57. But Langley insists 57 isn’t old – it’s a good time, vigorous, still very active, productive, engaged. Believe it! No wonder so many Baby Boomers who were career-downsized in the past decade have fled to Langley to reinvent themselves and to find the creative bliss and passion of the second half of their lives.


Coupeville (aka 98239) is our second-grayest town, with a median age of 51—a very limber, still-toned and hike-loving time of life. Believe that, too!


And, no surprise at all, our Rock “baby” is Oak Harbor (aka 98277) with a peach-fuzz median age of just 29. That’s what happens when the sailors hit town.

Youth tips the scales on the north end of Whidbey. In Langley, just 15 percent of the population is under age 20; it’s no wonder that South Whidbey has empty schoolrooms. Coupeville isn’t much better with a bit over 18 percent who are under 20 years old. But Oak Harbor—bursting with kids and very short of schoolrooms—has a whopping 31 percent under 20.

AdobeStock_31323627_WM.jpegAt the gray end of the scale, a smidgen more than 42 percent of Langley’s population is over 60 years old and more than 9 percent is over 80. Coupeville’s over-60 crowd represents just over 36 percent of the total population and almost 11 percent is over 80. (Yes, the Careage of Whidbey nursing home skews that last number somewhat, but Coupeville still wins the geezer sweepstakes.)

In diaper-covered Oak Harbor, just under 14 percent of the population is over 60 and only 3 percent is over 80. (Those must mostly be the aging vets that hang out for coffee and war stories at the Navy Exchange every morning.)

There are benefits to having so many shades of gray on our Rock. Thanks to still-dependable pensions, our poverty rate is lower than the state average. In North and Central Whidbey, the number of people living below the poverty level is about 8 percent, and in South Whidbey it’s 6.7 percent. The state figure is 10.6 percent.

Langley, thanks in part to so many well-off retirees, has a higher median home value ($341,599) than the state as a whole ($287,700). Clearly, Coupeville ($256,969) and Oak Harbor ($246,050) will need to recruit more deep-pocket oldsters if they want to catch up.

Our Rock economy is also bolstered by older people who are still working. Almost 28 percent of the island workforce (not counting active-duty military) is older than 55, compared with almost 23 percent statewide.

And here may be the most intriguing element of all: More than 57 percent of our civilian workforce is female, a figure that has grown steadily in recent years. We all know that women live longer. Apparently, on the Rock, they also work longer.

Once upon a time, Harry Anderson made an honest living as a reporter, editor and columnist at the Los Angeles Times. He now lives in central Whidbey, where he spends his time gardening and ruminating on things that interest him.


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