Population Growth & Population Aging in North Carolina Counties

Between 2000 and 2010, North Carolina gained almost 1.5 million residents to reach a total population of 9.5 million in 2010. Over this time period, North Carolina was the sixth fastest growing state in the nation. Its growth rate was 18.5%, nearly double the national rate of 9.7%. While its growth rate will slow, the state as a whole is projected to gain roughly one million residents each decade through 2040 and to rise from being the 10th most populous state to 8th by 2040.

Among North Carolina’s 100 counties, population growth trends are not experienced equally, and there will be increasing divergence in the future. Significant growth between 2000 and 2010 in major urban areas helped to boost North Carolina’s overall growth:

  • Raleigh experienced large growth in Wake and Johnston counties.
  • Charlotte and surrounding areas experienced rapid growth, with high growth rates in Mecklenburg, Union, and Cabarrus counties extending north up the I-77 corridor into Iredell county.

In contrast, many counties in the northeast and central coast experienced slow growth or population declines.

While only 7 North Carolina counties lost population in the last decade, 38 counties are projected to lose population between 2010 and 2020. These counties are predominantly in the coastal and mountain regions in the state. Over the same time period, Wake and Mecklenburg are projected to gain more than 200,000 residents. Counties surrounding other major urban areas, such as Guilford (Greensboro) and Durham, are similarly projected to see steady and substantial increases in population.

Map: Population Change and Proportion 65+, 2000-2030

While many factors contribute to population declines, a significant factor is population aging. Statewide, 17% of the population is projected to be 65 and older in 2020. Among NC counties, the percentage 65 and older will range from 9% to 31%. In 76 counties, the percentage 65 and older is projected to be higher than the statewide average. In some counties, such as Transylvania, Polk, and Clay to the west and Brunswick, Pamlico, and Perquimans on the coast, 3 of every 10 residents will be 65 or older in 2020.

The interactive tool below highlights the relationship between past growth (population change between 2000 and 2010), projected growth (population change between 2010 and 2020), and population aging. The circle size reflects population size in 2010 and color shows the projected percentage 65 and over in 2020. Details are shown by county name. You can filter by county name and proportion 65+; double click on the graphic to zoom.

A quick glance at the graphic shows a widening gap between the large, growing, and relatively young urban centers and the smaller, aging counties generally experiencing stagnant or declining population growth.

About Rebecca Tippett

Rebecca Tippett is Director of Carolina Demography at UNC-Chapel Hill's Carolina Population Center.
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