Census 2020 Analysis: Evolution of Virginia’s Age and Sex Distribution over the Past Decades

Between 2010 and 2020, the population in Virginia increased by over 630,000 people, reaching 8.63 million by 2020. Examining this growth through the lens of age distribution provides interesting insights into the present population structure.

The age-profile, disaggregated over 18 age-cohorts (0-4, 5-9,…. 80-84, 85+), has been gradually evolving over the last 3 decades so that the 1990 age-structure looks quite different from that in 2020 (evident in the panels above). Aging of baby boomers, lower births rates, delayed child bearing, longer life expectancy, and recent decline in migration and immigration, have all contributed to the changing population structure. Over time, the baby-boomers and echo-boomers have progressed upwards on the age bar-chart, filling out the upper and lower-middle sections, to form a more mature and stable population structure for Virginia.

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Changing Demographics: Older Adults in Group Quarters

The demographic landscape of Virginia has seen significant changes over the past century, particularly the increase in the older population. While many older adults prefer to stay in their homes and communities, some inevitably transition to long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, and in-patient hospices. This transition occurs when their home environments can no longer support their complex medical conditions, when they lack access to nearby community and healthcare infrastructure, or when they have limited social support from families and friends. Understanding the living arrangements of these older adults in long-term care settings is essential for informing policymakers to help guide the allocation of funds, which eventually can support direct care workers in providing services to older adults. In this blog post, we explore the changing living arrangements of older adults in Virginia, with a particular focus on those in group quarters (GQs). This exploration sheds light on the evolving needs and choices of older Virginians.

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New Virginia Population Projections for 2030-2050

Since the release of the 2020 Decennial Census, the Weldon Cooper Center Demographics Research Group has been actively using this new data to evaluate our past projections; to modify our modelling techniques and methodology in order to minimize the potential accuracy issues of the new Census data; and to develop the official 2030, 2040, and 2050 projected populations (total, age, sex) for each of Virginia’s 133 cities and counties.

Findings from the latest round of Virginia population projections suggest that the Commonwealth is expected to add almost 500,000 residents since the 2020 Census, reaching 9.1 million by 2030. While Virginia continues to grow steadily in terms of absolute population size, the rate of population growth is expected to drop from 7.9% in the last decade, to 5.8% over 2020-2030. Continue reading “New Virginia Population Projections for 2030-2050”

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After a decade of slow growth, many of Virginia’s exurbs are booming again

Before the Great Recession in the late 2000s, Louisa County was among the fastest growing counties in the nation. Lake Anna’s 200 miles of shoreline helped attract thousands of retirees to the county, while Louisa’s low cost of living and proximity to Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, and Richmond attracted many younger residents willing to make a long commute to the metro areas. After a decade of slow growth in population following the 2000s housing crash, the 2022 Virginia Population Estimates that our center released this morning show Louisa and many other counties located on the borders of Virginia’s metro areas are booming again.

Fastest Growing Since 2020 Fastest Declining Since 2020
New Kent County 7.5% Buchanan County -4.7%
Goochland County 5.6% Radford City -4.6%
Louisa County 5.4% Henry County -4.3%
Suffolk City 4.9% Sussex County -4.2%
Chesterfield County 4.5% Patrick County -3.1%
Caroline County 4.5% Dickenson County -3.0%
Stafford County 3.9% Lexington City -3.0%
Frederick County 3.6% Charles City County -2.8%
Clarke County 3.6% Greensville County -2.7%
Spotsylvania County 3.4% Smyth County -2.7%

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Aging in Place in Virginia

In 2020, one in five Virginians (22%) was aged 60 or older. As our population ages, the demand for infrastructure and services to support older adults will continue to increase. One important issue that is gaining more attention is the concept of “aging in place,” which is this year’s theme for the national observance of Older Americans Month by the Administration for Community Living. Aging in place stems from the idea that a majority of older adults prefer to remain in their homes and communities as long as possible. [1]

To support individuals’ preference to age in place and prevent expensive and often unwanted institutional long-term care, policymakers are prioritizing their efforts toward providing home and community-based services (HCBS). For example, under the support of the federal Older Americans Act, the local Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) and Title VI Native American aging programs have delivered a range of HCBS services to millions of older adults and caregivers by working with state governments and tens of thousands of local service providers and vendors.

Many communities have also developed grassroots and consumer-driven initiatives to address the needs and challenges of residents aging in place. The Villages or Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC), for instance, provides supportive health and social services to older adults (within a specific geographic community) through existing formal aging services and programs and the assistance of volunteers.

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In the era of remote work, housing costs may slow Virginia population growth further

On July 13, 2022, the Demographics Research Group presented our analysis of the interrelationship between Virginia’s housing market and population trends to the General Assembly’s Housing Commission. After receiving a number of inquiries regarding the presentation, we are sharing a summary of the presentation with expanded commentary on some noteworthy trends.

Throughout American history, the availability and cost of housing has influenced where people move and, consequently, where the country’s population has grown. One of the most significant demographic trends in the U.S. during the 20th century was the southward shift in growth after World War II. Many northerners moved to states in the Sunbelt, drawn, in large part, by cheaper housing and a lower cost of living. Virginia was one of the southern states impacted the most by this change. In the 1920s, Virginia’s population growth rate was only 5 percent, but by the 1940s, growth had soared to 24 percent. Each decade since then, Virginia’s population has grown faster than the rest of country.

Source: Decennial Census and Intercensal Estimates

As recently as the 1990s, Virginia was, like its southern neighbors, a significantly more affordable place to live than most northeastern states. The median home price in Virginia in 1990 was half that of Connecticut but close to a third more than in North Carolina. However, over the past couple of decades, home prices in most places in Virginia rose faster than the rest of country. As a result, by 2019, Virginia’s median home price was slightly higher than the median home price in Connecticut and 50 percent higher than in North Carolina. Home prices in every Virginia county north of the James River, except Amherst, have risen faster than the rest of country. In Northern Virginia, the combination of a strong economy and relatively low home construction rates have caused home prices to increase more than any east coast metro area over the past two decades. Today, Arlington and Fairfax have the most expensive housing among all East Coast counties, after only Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Source: 2000 Census, 2019 Five Year Census American Community Survey

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School Enrollment in a Post-Pandemic Virginia

On January 13th, the Demographics Research Group provided a presentation to the State Senate Finance & Appropriations Subcommittee for K-12 Education. In our presentation, we focused on the impact that births and private education will have on enrollment in 2020s. The following post is a summary of the trends included in that presentation.

Before the pandemic began in 2020, the number of students in Virginia’s public schools had been growing steadily for decades. During the 2010s, the K-12 enrollment in Virginia public schools overall increased by 42,000 students. At the locality level, however, public school enrollment trends were much more mixed. In fact, most of Virginia’s school divisions experienced a decline in enrollment but its ten largest school divisions added more than enough students to make up for enrollment losses elsewhere in the Commonwealth. The pandemic, however, has significantly altered school enrollment trends: The gains in public school enrollment seen in the 2010s have been erased, while enrollment in homeschooling and private schools has grown substantially as many parents have opted to educate their children privately.

K-12 Enrollment Change 2010 to 2019

Source: Virginia Department of Education Fall Count

The recent decline in public school enrollment and the surge in homeschooling and private schooling have both been widely reported but what is less commonly known is that well before the pandemic began, enrollment in Virginia public schools was on track to begin declining in the early 2020s. The first indicator of school enrollment decline in Virginia was in the fall of 2013, when Virginia’s entering kindergarten class was substantially smaller than the year before. By 2015, Virginia’s total elementary school enrollment had declined after several years of increasingly smaller kindergarten classes. By this fall, even without the pandemic, Virginia’s public school enrollment was expected to enter an indefinite period of enrollment decline—with close to 50,000 fewer students by 2030. Continue reading “School Enrollment in a Post-Pandemic Virginia”

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Comparing 2020 Virginia Population Projections to the Census Count

Population projections provide an approximate idea of the expected future population size and are used in urban planning, resource allocation for emergency services, prioritizing public and private investments, and in many other ways. By using past observations with present trends and making certain plausible assumptions, we built the official 2020 projected population for each of Virginia’s 133 cities and counties

Even though the future is largely unknown and unpredictable, at the start of each decade, we get a chance to compare the accuracy of our projections with the U.S. Decennial Census data. This allows us to ensure that our projection methods are guided by rigorous demographic and statistical standards, and produce reasonable numbers at both the locality and state levels when carefully tested against Census data. Continue reading “Comparing 2020 Virginia Population Projections to the Census Count”

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Why 2020 Census data needs to be treated with caution

It is difficult to name any data source that is more reputable than the U.S. decennial census data, which is collected every ten years. The enormous effort to collect the demographic information of every U.S. resident for the 2020 Census required half a million workers and a budget of over 14 billion dollars (more than the total funding provided to the National Weather Service over the last ten years). Yet, despite the vast amount of time and money spent on the census, much of the 2020 Census data released earlier this month will be difficult or impossible to use. This is due, in part, to disruptions to census operations as a result of the pandemic and, in part, to a series of decisions made by the Census Bureau to distort most 2020 data prior to releasing it.

To help data users process the 2020 census results, we will be analyzing 2020 Census data and sharing our findings, including important demographic trends that are clear in the data and some of the key problems we’ve identified in the data. One overall observation is that Census 2020 data tends to be more reliable for larger areas and populations whereas in Virginia’s smaller localities, data errors and distortions are much more common. Continue reading “Why 2020 Census data needs to be treated with caution”

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Who Practices What Religion Where in Virginia?

Both of us—one a demographer and one a religious studies grad student—have long been interested in the demographics of religion. Teaming up allowed us the opportunity to merge personal interest with professional curiosity and explore the religious makeup of Virginia and its localities—specifically, the importance of geography in determining a region’s religious characterization. Were individuals more likely to live in a certain location if they practiced a particular religion? Does the assumption that major metro areas are more likely to harbor diverse religious communities’ hold true within the Commonwealth?


Figure 1: Largest Non-Christian Religious Group by State in 2010  (Click on map to enlarge)

Major religions practiced in VA

Looking at national religious trends, Christianity continues to be the dominant religion in the United States. In many respects, the Commonwealth of Virginia mirrors the religious attitudes of the nation. 73% of VA residents self-identify as Christian, just above the national average of 71% found by the Pew Research Center. Of those that do not identify as Christian, 20% reported being religiously unaffiliated, while only 6% identified with a non-Christian religion. Islam is the second largest religious group in VA, as it is in most of the southern U.S., including VA’s neighbors of West Virginia and North Carolina.

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