PUBLISHED: 4:51 PM on Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Alaska 2030: More gray hair, more kids
Viewing "Tougher in Alaska" from a lounge chair in, say, Arlington, Va., you might conclude several things about Alaska: It's always cold, living on the Last Frontier is hard and men way outnumber women.

The latest program about Alaska, this one running on the History Channel, covers work up here - everything from fishing and logging in the Tongass to gold mining. And it perpetuates a myth that Alaska is made up of people like "Tougher in Alaska" host Geo Beach - masculine, high-spirited types: oil hands, hunters, trappers, bush pilots and fishermen.

CCW file photo
  Alaska demographers project the state's population will change drastically by 2030. The 65 and older age group is forecast to experience the largest growth and children are expected to have the second fastest growing group.
Not to pick on the History Channel: "Deadliest Catch" and "Men in Trees" also promote Alaska as a place dominated by guys.

In fact, any woman who comes to Alaska hoping to find Mr. Right would have better luck in North Dakota and Nevada -states that have the most men around for women to choose, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It turns out that the premise of Alaska as a place dominated by men is out-of-date. And the state and region are on the cusp of other sweeping demographic changes.

Across Alaska, there are still slightly more males than females, 51 percent to 49 percent. But that's a dramatic change from 1960, just a year after statehood, when there were 132 men for every 100 women. By 2000, the ratio was 107 to 100, according to a study by the University of Alaska Anchorage.

By 2006, the gender split was exactly 50-50 in Anchorage, according to Census Bureau data. In Juneau, the gap has also closed. By 2006, 49.8 percent of the population was women. If he were writing today, poet Robert Service would have had to recast the Law of the Yukon that earned him widespread fame a century ago when it romanticized the men who came to Southeast Alaska and Canada in search of gold:

"Send me men girt for the combat, men who are girt to the core; Swift as the panther in triumph, fierce as the bear in defeat, Sired of a bulldog parent, steeled in the furnace heat..."

Economics and attitudes may be responsible for the closing of the gender gap, one of many changes that has remade the look of the Last Frontier since it became a state.

Some of Alaska's most high profile jobs are now held by women. In 2006, Alaska elected Sarah Palin, its first female governor. Julie Kitka runs the powerful Alaska Federation of Natives organization. What's more, the state's economy has more employment in retail, hospitality and healthcare than years ago. These fields attract higher numbers of women than traditional Alaska strongholds including fishing and logging.

Alaska demographers have developed projections of how the state's and the region's population will change by 2030.

In the coming decades there will be 25 percent more Alaskans than in 2006. The population of the Last Frontier will hit 838,676 in 2030, if predictions hold true. The 65 and older set is forecast to experience the largest growth of age group - tripling in number as Alaska's baby boomers ease into retirement. But it won't be all gray hair. Kids, from newborn to age 17, will be the second fastest growing group statewide.

Southeast, which has been losing population in recent years, will continue to decline by about 7 percent between 2006 and 2030.

Juneau, a little more than two decades from now, will have a population of 32,260 according to state economists, with 49.8 percent of the town's composition women.

What the projections don't account for is a major economic boost, like a new gold rush, gas-line construction or a surge in rural ecotourism. For both women and men, well-paid jobs are often what draw new people to an area.

To come up with their forecast, economists looked at birth and death rates as well as the historic numbers of people moving in and out of the state and region. Without a crystal ball, they can't tell if the price of precious metals will increase or drop, which would likely affect the jobs available in mining industry in Southeast, or if the state capitol will remain in the capital city.

But that might make a good TV docudrama.