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Nantucket Data Platform Releases: The Effective Population Study, 2023

This effort merges public and private data, including trip-level data from ferries and airlines, with ground-breaking data science. It offers a detailed portrait of daily changes in the island’s population.


The drop-downs tools in the online version of the report help you focus on specific areas of interest and allow you to view a number of Nantucket population data and insights from over the last decade.


Our high level observations follow:


Daily population (maximum):


We observe that the peak season (especially the months of July and August) is getting busier on Nantucket. For example, back in 2014, we estimated that there were fewer than 40,000 people on the island on all but the busiest summer weekends. During the summers of 2021 and 2022, the population exceeded 40,000 people throughout virtually all of July and August, meaning that the average summer day in Nantucket now is similar to the busiest holiday weekends of just eight or nine years ago. The only exception to this rule is the summer of 2020 when Covid-19 severely impacted tourist travel.


Daily population (minimum):


In a similar way, we also observe that the quieter seasons of the year are busier. In 2014-2016, it was not uncommon for the population of Nantucket to fall below 17,000 or 18,000 during the months of February and March. Fast forward to 2022, and the wintertime population rarely falls below 20,000. This hints at the slow but steady increase in the full-time resident population, as well as a possible, yet modest, uptick in off-season tourism.




We note that ferry capacity is always much higher than the actual use, due to excess availability on the slower ferries. We also note that commercial passenger flights have not quite reached their 2019 levels since COVID-19.


Connected communities:


The Boston metro area is always the most popular origin point for visitors to Nantucket, but in August of each year, New Yorkers give them a run for their money. Remember that the chart does not include visitors from Cape Cod (Barnstable County).


Nantucketer Profiles:


Note that the total population on the island is growing each year (except 2020), but that the increase in the number of workers is not growing as quickly. This is especially true for the seasonal workforce, whose numbers have been more or less flat for the period between 2014 and 2019, and has in fact decreased by approximately 20% since COVID-19. In the summer of 2019, there was one seasonal worker on the island for every 10.9 people during the peak season. By 2022, this figure increased to 14.4. In other words, a seasonal worker during the summer of 2022 now serves 32% more than one in 2019.


What Does the Future Hold:


Obviously, we don’t know. During COVID Nantucket’s attractiveness was amplified and its popularity grew. While Nantucket’s seasonal population has demonstrated steady growth over nearly 10 years of study, its population trend line is, perhaps, unfairly conservative as the COVID dip has obvious implications on the trend. It would have been stronger without COVID and, more importantly, as the population recovers, the question is – “Will the trend continue steadily up as we have observed during the past, almost 10 years, or does the stronger growth since 2020 represent a ‘new normal’ of faster growth post-COVID?”


Read the full report here.


Effective Population Study, 2023