New Mexico’s Population Has Skyrocketed 108% in 50 Years… See What’s Driving the Growth

Written by Claire Wilson
Published: December 9, 2023
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Known as “The Land of Enchantment,” New Mexico has stunning desert landscapes, gorgeous mountain ranges, and unique natural caves and caverns to explore. While the exceptional terrain draws many new residents, affordable housing and low property taxes are also attractive. While New Mexico may not be the most populous state in the Union, it is steadily growing. In the past 50 years, New Mexico’s population growth skyrocketed 108 percent. Here are a few reasons why New Mexico’s population is rising.

New Mexico’s Population Growth

Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

Santa Fe is the fourth-largest city in New Mexico. According to 2020 census numbers, the population per square mile in Santa Fe is 1,675.3.

©Sean Pavone/iStock via Getty Images

From 1970 to 2020, New Mexico’s population increased by 108 percent. That’s a gain of 1,166,499 people over 50 years. It would be like if the entire city of San Jose, California, settled in New Mexico.

Here is what New Mexico’s population growth looked like each decade:

YearPopulation in New Mexico

Decade With the Biggest Growth

From 1970 to 1980, New Mexico experienced the biggest population growth. From 1,016,000 people in 1970 to 1,302,894 people in 1980, that decade increased by over 28 percent.

Counties With the Highest Populations

Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA downtown cityscape at twilight.

Unsurprisingly, Bernalillo, the most populated county in New Mexico, encompasses the most populated city in the state: Albuquerque.

©Sean Pavone/

Out of the 32 counties in New Mexico, here are the five most populated counties according to 2020 census figures:

RankCounty NamePopulation in 2020
1.Bernalillo County672,508
2.Doña Ana County223,337
3.Santa Fe County155,664
4.Sandoval County153,501
5.San Juan County120,418

The most populated county, Bernalillo, encompasses the most populated city in New Mexico: Albuquerque. It’s the state’s top business and economic center, and many move there for job opportunities.

Doña Ana County is the second-most populated county. The county encompasses Las Cruces, the second-most populous municipality in the state. Las Cruces has the New Mexico State University, one of the country’s top colleges, and the unique White Sands National Park. Sharing a border with Texas and Mexico, Doña Ana County is also right by El Paso, the 22nd most populated city in the U.S. With a population density of 55 residents per square mile, Doña Ana County is one of the top five counties to which people move.

Santa Fe County holds the state capital, which is a major employer. So, it’s no wonder it comes in third for most-populated counties in New Mexico. Additionally, Santa Fe County has one of the four major airports in the state and the third biggest city: Santa Fe. It’s a popular county to live in.

However, Sandoval County has been the fastest-growing county in New Mexico. Sandoval County has seen a 9.63 percent increase between 2010 and 2020, becoming the fourth-most populated county in New Mexico. It is one of the safest counties and has some of the best schools. On top of that, the county has a low cost of living and expanding job opportunities.

Finally, in fifth place is San Juan County. It is in the state’s northwest corner and includes the New Mexico portion of the Four Corners. Also, it is known worldwide for being the premier big game hunting and fishing destination.

How New Mexico’s Population Ranks Overall

Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

Santa Fe has a GDP of $6.2 billion from tourism, a robust arts scene, and government employment. It is one of the top five counties to which people move.

©Sean Pavone/iStock via Getty Images

Even though New Mexico ranks fifth largest among the 50 states by land area, it only ranks 36th in population size. And, because of its land area and population of just over 2.1 million, New Mexico ranks 46th in population density. According to numbers in 2020, there are only 17.5 persons per square mile in the state.

Reasons Why New Mexico Is Growing

New Mexico Sunrise Over the Rio Grande River

People like to retire to New Mexico because of the gorgeous landscape, mild climate, and year-round outdoor recreation.

©Dean_Fikar/iStock via Getty Images

New Mexico is a popular spot to retire because of its mild climate and warm temperatures all year round. From 2010 to 2022, the 65 and older demographic in the state grew 47.2 percent.

Compared to its neighboring states, New Mexico beats them all regarding the low cost of living, except for Texas. Overall, New Mexico ranks 21st for states with the lowest cost of living in 2023.

However, New Mexico’s population is projected to decline. Births within the state are dropping. In 2020, there were only 21.8 thousand births in New Mexico, compared to 27.8 thousand in 2010. Also, out-migration is outpacing in-migration, though the number of births in New Mexico still outnumbers the combined number of deaths and out-migration annually. It is estimated that the population will peak in the next 20 years and then decline in 2035.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Sean Pavone/

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About the Author

Claire Wilson is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on reptiles, travel, and historic places and landmarks. Claire holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, which she earned in 2010. A resident of Wisconsin, Claire enjoys hiking, visiting parks, and biking nature trails.

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