Fast-growing Asian population highly concentrated in NC urban areas

North Carolina’s Asian population is the fastest-growing racial/ethnic group in the state. The state’s Asian population grew from 209,400 residents in 2010 to more than 303,000 in 2017, an increase of nearly 94,000 or 44.7%. The state’s total population grew by 7.7% over this period.

The Asian population is also the fastest-growing group nationwide and North Carolina’s Asian population is growing at a faster pace than the nation’s. Between 2016 and 2017, the Asian population increased by 3.1% nationally. In North Carolina, the Asian population increased by 5.1% over this time.

The state’s Asian population is highly concentrated. Over half of North Carolina’s Asian residents live in one of three counties: Wake (76,500), Mecklenburg (64,900), or Guilford (26,700). The counties with the next largest Asian populations are Durham (15,600), Orange (11,800), and Forsyth (9,200).

Though the Asian population is increasing rapidly, it still constitutes a smaller share of North Carolina’s population than the nation’s.  Statewide, 3.0% of North Carolina’s population is Asian, roughly half the share nationwide (5.8%).

Unlike the Hispanic population—which comprises a greater share of the population in some of the state’s rural counties—the Asian population is heavily concentrated in the state’s urban areas. There are only nine counties where the Asian population makes up 3% or more of the county total population.

In Orange County, 8.1% of residents are of Asian origin, the highest share statewide, followed by Wake (7.1%), Mecklenburg (6.0%), Guilford (5.1%), and Durham (5.0%) counties. The share of Asian residents is also above the state average in Catawba (4.3%), Cabarrus (3.9%), Burke (3.6%), and Craven (3.1%) counties. The Asian populations in these counties represent a wide range of cultural/ethnic origins:

  • In Orange and Durham counties, Chinese is the most commonly reported Asian origin.
  • In Wake, Mecklenburg, and Cabarrus counties, the largest share of Asian residents identifies as Asian Indian.
  • Vietnamese is the most commonly reported origin among the Asian population in Guilford County.
  • Individuals of Hmong origin comprise most of the Asian residents in both Catawba and Burke counties.
  • Over half of Asian residents in Craven County identify as Burmese.

For more on North Carolina’s Asian population, see this post detailing the growth of the foreign-born Asian population.

Data sources: U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates (2017 Vintage) and 2016 5-Year American Community Survey estimates.

About Rebecca Tippett

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