Between 2015 and 2035, North Carolina’s Office of State Budget and Management projects that the state will gain nearly 2.1 million new residents. Nearly 41% of this population growth is predicted to occur in either Mecklenburg or Wake counties. Meanwhile, 24 of the state’s counties are projected to lose population over the next 20 years and another nine—Avery, Beaufort, Columbus, Gates, Greene, Rockingham, Rowan, Surry, and Tyrrell counties—are projected to have zero population growth. Bertie County is projected to see the largest impact of population loss over this time period; it is projected to lose more than 5,200 residents, or 26% of its population, by 2035.
In addition to overall population shifts, the next 20 years will see significant growth in the state’s population at ages 65 and older. Between 2015 and 2035, the size of North Carolina’s population 65 and older will increase from 1.5 to 2.5 million. This growth represents two factors:
- North Carolina’s Baby Boomer residents will steadily age into the 65 and older age category through 2030
- North Carolina’s appeal as a destination for retirees from other states.
By 2035, more than one in every five North Carolinians will be 65 or older, up from 15% in 2015.
Many counties will see growing populations at older ages at the same time that populations at younger ages are predicted to decline. This will create new challenges for communities, from school system consolidation to potential labor force challenges, such as too few caregivers for aging residents. The images below highlight projected county-level changes in key age groups between 2015 and 2035.
Child Population (Ages 0-17)
North Carolina’s child population is projected to grow by 152,000 individuals between 2015 and 2035, an increase of 7%. The largest percentage increase is projected to occur in Durham County (32%) followed by Currituck (29%), Pender (29%), Johnston (25%), and Macon (24%) counties. The largest numeric increases in the child population are projected in Mecklenburg (45,000), Wake (33,000), Durham (22,000), Union (14,000), and Johnston (12,000) counties.
More than half of North Carolina counties (54) are projected to have fewer children in 2035 than they did in 2015. Hertford, Bertie, Scotland, and Halifax counties are all projected to see declines of 20% or more in the size of their child populations. The largest numeric losses are projected to occur in Robeson (-5,600), Rowan (-3,500), and Guilford (-3,300) counties.
Young Adults (Ages 18-34)
North Carolina’s young adult population is projected to increase by more than 373,000 between 2015 and 2035, an increase of 16%. The largest percentage increase is predicted in Hoke County (58%); Johnston, Cabarrus, Brunswick, and Union counties are all projected to see their young adult populations grow by 40% or more. The largest numeric increases are projected to occur in Mecklenburg (75,000), Wake (73,000), Durham (26,000), and Forsyth (21,000).
Meanwhile, 42 of the state’s counties are projected to have declines in their young adult population over the coming two decades. The largest numeric losses are predicted in Robeson and Nash (both projected to lose 2,100 young adults), followed by Stokes (-2,000), Bertie (-1,900), and Halifax (-1,700). Bertie (-42%) and Northampton (-32%) are predicted to see the largest percentage declines in their young adult population.
Working Age (Ages 35-64)
North Carolina’s working age population (35-64) is projected to grow by nearly 550,000 individuals between 2015 and 2035, an increase of 14%. Sixty percent of this growth is projected to occur in Mecklenburg (189,000) and Wake (143,000). The largest relative increases in working age population size are projected to occur in Hoke (46%), Mecklenburg (46%), and Brunswick (43%).
With working-age individuals increasingly concentrated in urban areas, 53 counties are projected to have fewer adults ages 35 to 64 in 2035. (Note that these individuals are often parents; the declines in the working-age population and the child population often mirror each other.) Nash (-5,400) and Catawba (-5,200) counties are predicted to see the largest numeric losses in working age population while Bertie (-25%), Scotland (-23%), and Halifax (-19%) are projected to experience the largest relative declines.
Older Ages (65+)
North Carolina’s population 65 and older is projected to grow by 66% between 2015 and 2035, rising from 1.5 million to 2.5 million. The 65 and older population is projected to increase in 99 of the state’s 100 counties. Bertie County is the only county projected to see population declines at all ages, due to its significant predicted population loss.
Although the largest numeric increases in the 65 and older population are again projected to occur in Wake (152,000) and Mecklenburg (130,000), these two counties only account for 28% of the overall growth in the population 65 and older, in contrast to higher shares of the state’s overall population growth. Four other counties are also projected to see their population at older ages increase by more than 30,000 individuals: Guilford (45,000), Union (35,000), Forsyth (33,000), and Durham (33,000). In eight counties—Wake, Union, Hoke, Mecklenburg, Johnston, Currituck, Cabarrus, and Orange—the population 65 and older is projected to more than double between 2015 and 2035.
North Carolina’s Office of State Budget and Management produces annually updated population projections for the next 20 years. These files contain detailed population projections for North Carolina and all 100 counties. Data include annual projections of age, race, and sex and can be accessed here.