If you grew up in one of Northern Virginia’s suburban counties, such as Prince William, or in any of Virginia’s metro areas, you likely grew up with the impression that growth is as certain as the seasons. For decades, many counties in Virginia have grown relentlessly, constructing thousands of homes each year to house new residents. With more residents come more schools, roads, offices and shops. Except for the hard times around the Civil War, Virginia’s population as a whole has grown continuously since it was a colony.
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.
As Hamilton noted when posting the map of updated Virginia Metropolitan Statistical Areas, the MSA’s are calculated with commuting statistics. If more than 25% of workers in a locality commute to a nearby metropolitan area, that county is considered to be closely linked to it. This is a useful cutoff point, but like all cutoffs, it is completely arbitrary. I mapped five of the state’s largest MSA’s to show the degree to which their surrounding counties are dependent on them. This is important to understand since a significant part of Virginia’s “rural” areas are becoming increasingly exurban – dependent on nearby urban economies rather than agriculture or local industries. Again, 25% is the cutoff for inclusion in the MSA (see Hamilton’s map linked above). That includes all workers commuting to one of the core counties of the MSA. The “core counties” are not explicitly listed anywhere that we’ve been able to find, but there is a definition and by working backwards from the commuting numbers it’s not too hard to figure out.
Virginia is often ranked as one of the top states for retirees, according to lists published by groups like AARP or Bankrate. Temperate climate, good healthcare, and standard of living are all listed among Virginia’s advantages. During the past decade, however, few retirees moved to Virginia, and more 65- to 74-year-olds moved out of the state than in. Additionally, despite both college towns and cities being promoted as attractive retirement spots, in Virginia’s major cities more retirees moved out than in and there was no great influx of retirees moving in to college towns such as Blacksburg or Charlottesville. Instead rural and suburban regions were the only areas in Virginia to experience growth due to in-migration of retirees.