Gainesville, Fla. — Just who are the people of Florida? What do they look like statistically? Florida is demographically similar to the country as a whole except for two big things: age structure, and inmigration.
Few will be surprised to learn that Florida has more of its people - 17.3 percent - in the 65-plus age group than any other state.
The national figure is 11.3 percent. (Arkansas takes second place in this category with a 13.7 percent figure.)
Florida's median age of 34.7 is the highest of any state - more than two years above the next state in this category, Pennsylvania, which has a median age of 32.2. The national median age, as of the 1980 census, was 30.0.
Despite Florida's reputation as a retirement haven, the majority of newcomers to the state are working-age people and their families. Between 1970 and 1980, only 24 percent of the ''net inmigrants'' were 65 or older.
Florida's growth rate between 1970 and 1980 ranks third, behind Nevada and Arizona in percentage growth and behind California and Texas in terms of absolute numbers.
But what was particularly striking about Florida's growth during this period was how much of it was due to an influx of people, or inmigration, rather than the ''natural increase'' of births minus deaths.
Of the 2.95 million new people the state gained during the '70s, 2.7 million were the result of net inmigration. Only a growth of some 250,000 would have been gained without this influx of new residents from other states.
''This is close to double the figure for net inmigration of the next state, California,'' observes Stanley K. Smith, an economist and demographer at the University of Florida.
Florida's rate of natural increase, the lowest in the nation, puts the state in the same league as East Germany, Hungary, Austria, and Luxembourg, where the numbers of births and deaths are just about equal, he says.
''There are two ways this could change,'' he adds. ''One would be for the age structure to alter, and the other would be for there to be a substantial increase in the number of births per woman.'' Both are unlikely, he says.
If you think all the newcomers streaming into Florida make it a state where most people are from somewhere else, you're right.
Only 31.3 percent of Florida's 10 million residents in 1980 were natives. Nationally, 63.8 percent of US residents were living in their native state at census time. (Nevada, however, takes the prize for the lowest proportion of native residents, with 21.3 percent.)
If you think Florida has gone Hispanic, you're wrong.
Only 8.8 percent of the state's residents described themselves on their census forms as Hispanic; this is not far from the national figure, 6.4 percent, and nowhere near the 36.6 percent of New Mexico, the leader in this category. (California is No. 1 in absolute numbers of Hispanics.)
The proportion of Floridians who are black - 13.8 percent - is close to the national figure of 11.7 percent. After decades of black flight from Florida, the trend reversed; since 1970 there has been net inmigration of blacks.
Labor force participation by those 16 and above in Florida is 56.2 percent, compared with 62 percent nationally, another reflection of the number of retirees here. The trend is up, though; the state figure in 1970 was 53.4 percent. Education levels show another upward trend: 67.2 percent of Floridians 25 and older had high school diplomas in 1980, compared with 66.3 percent nationally. Florida's 1970 figure was 52.6 percent. Florida trailed the nation as a whole in the number of those 25 and above who had college sheepskins: 14.7 percent, compared with 16.3 percent nationwide.
Florida's per capita income, $7,593 for 1979, was just a bit above the national average of $7,313; and the proportion of Florida families receiving incomes below the poverty level - 9.5 percent - was likewise close to the national figure of 9.6 percent.