Population Research and Policy Review 21: 227–240, 2002.
© 2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Counting snowbirds: The importance of and the problems with
estimating seasonal populations
STEPHEN K. HAPPEL
& TIMOTHY D. HOGAN
Department of Economics,
Center for Business Research, College of Business, Arizona
State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-3806, U.S.A.
Abstract. Using the example of the seasonal population of “snowbirds” that spend the winter
in Arizona and other Sunbelt states, this paper examines the issues involved with estimating
temporary populations. Speciﬁcally using the experience of ASU’s ongoing research efforts
on Arizona snowbirds, the paper discusses some of the problems associated with estimating a
seasonal population – in particular: (1) deﬁning the population under study and (2) developing
effective procedures to collect information relating to the population. The concluding section
emphasizes the growing national importance of temporary populations and the needs of both
the public and private sector to have better information on both their size and characteristics.
Keywords: population estimates, seasonal migration, temporary populations
Seasonal populations remain an elusive topic for U.S. demographers. While
temporary residents are widely recognized in extent, magnitude, and their
social and economic impacts, relatively few efforts have been devoted to de-
veloping nationwide, statewide, or even local estimates of the phenomenon.
Standard deﬁnitions are still to be established even though the aging baby
boom, longer life expectancies, and rising household wealth all point to
signiﬁcant increases in seasonal ﬂows over the next ten years.
The biggest impact of seasonal migration occurs in the Sunbelt states,
particularly Arizona, Florida and Texas. For example, we now estimate that
during the peak period Arizona is the temporary home of 273,000 long-
term seasonal residents who come to escape the winters in their home
states/provinces to the north. Conversely, beach and mountain states have
a similar phenomenon of large numbers of seasonal residents during the
These movements of people from their “usual place of residence” for
part of the year have signiﬁcant impacts on both the sending and receiving
communities. Discussions of seasonal migration typically emphasize the pos-
itive economic impacts to the receiving communities. But there are negative
economic impacts in both sending and receiving communities to the extent
that substantial variation in the size of the service population may cause
communities to build facilities only needed for part of the year. In addition,