There is a lot of buzz amongst urbanists and demographers about millennials’ preference for urban areas. We’ve found evidence to support this narrative in some areas of Virginia, including indications that they may be staying even after having kids.
But there’s also a lot of talk about baby boomers retiring and moving into cities. Maybe this is happening in other parts of the U.S., but it’s certainly not the case in Virginia. On the contrary, they appear to be heading for the hills. In fact, despite Forbes Magazine naming Virginia its 5th best state to retire in, Virginia does not appear to attract many retirees in general.
Virginia is aging quickly, as can be seen on the map below. From 2000 to 2010, the median age in the Commonwealth rose from 35.7 to 37.5. In some localities, it rose by as many as 5 or 6 years in just that 10-year period. But most of that is due to a gradual decline in birthrates, not older people moving in. From 2000 to 2010, migration accounted for only a slight (1-2%) increase in the population of age groups around retirement age, and that increase was smaller than the state’s overall growth rate.
Like many people, I’ve been inclined to explain Virginia’s decades of explosive population growth in terms of migration and the Federal government’s expansion in Northern Virginia. While that’s certainly part of the equation, “natural increase” has actually driven most of the growth, just as it has across the country. Natural increase simply means more people are born than die in a year. Even in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, natural increase is the largest generator of population growth. But “natural increase” does not mean that we are having lots and lots of babies. In fact, it has much more to do with the fact that we had a lot of babies a while back and since then people started living a lot longer.
You hear, on this blog and elsewhere, about the “aging population,” but I wanted to show exactly what that means. Here’s the one gif you need to see to understand population growth in Virginia:
During the past decade major changes in population growth patterns were evident in Virginia. In contrast to what happened in the early 2000s housing boom, when many counties on the edges of urban areas became some of the fastest growing in the country, when the boom ended, these same “exurban” counties declined in population. At the same time, after decades of stagnation and decline, urban centers began to grow again during the early 2000s.
One way to understand these dramatic changes in where Virginia’s population grew is to analyze home construction activity because it is often one of the most reliable indicators of population and economic change.
During the early 2000s, Virginia underwent a real estate boom that mirrored what was occurring nationally in the wake of broadening access to mortgages. In Virginia, home prices rose in many parts of the state during this time, but particularly in larger metro areas. In Fairfax County, for example, the median home sale price more than doubled from $220,000 in 2000 to $545,000 in 2005. Rising home prices forced many home buyers to move farther out from urban areas for affordable homes in the exurbs.
Change in the Number of Homes Constructed 2000 to 2005
Every year, the Cooper Center produces the official population estimates for the commonwealth of Virginia. The current estimates are based on changes since the 2010 census in housing stock, school enrollment, births, deaths, and driver’s licenses. They are used by state and local government agencies in revenue sharing, funding allocations, planning and budgeting.
Since 2010, Virginia has grown faster than the nation, growing by 2.3% between the 2010 census and July 2, 2012, to nearly 8.2 million residents. Within Virginia, the largest population gains continue to be concentrated in the urban centers of Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Hampton Roads. And much of Virginia’s overall growth remains driven by the rapid growth of Northern Virginia, with 54% of the state’s growth between 2010 and 2012 occurring in NoVA.
Figure 1. Numerical Population Change, 2010-2012
Although many growth patterns in the population estimates appear to be the continuation of past trends – Northern Virginia’s continued growth, stagnant growth and population loss in more rural areas of the state—the 2012 estimates also show signs of population aging and renewed growth in Virginia’s independent cities.
There is too much in this report to cover in a single blog post, so for this one I’ll give a brief summary of Chapters 1 and 2, which cover the basic information about these areas and give an overview of the population change over the last decade.
“Metropolitan statistical areas” were developed as an official concept during the 1940s, when “it became evident that the value of metropolitan data produced by federal agencies would be greatly enhanced if agencies used a single set of geographic definitions for the nation’s largest centers of population and economic activity.”
A metro area, as it’s more commonly called, is an “area with a large population nucleus together with the adjacent communities that have a high degree of social and economic integration with that nucleus.” Metro areas contain at least one urban area of 50,000 people or more. In 2003, “micro areas” were introduced as a new concept. These new, smaller areas are essentially the same as metro areas, they just contain a population core of 10,000-50,000 residents. These areas, while not even covering half of the U.S. land mass, cover the vast majority of the population in the U.S. – 84 percent of people live in a metro area and another 10 percent live in a micro area.