This chapter explains Virginia’s major demographic trends over the past decade. The size, movement, diversity, and age of the population all affect the number and types of households (both current and new) and the kinds of housing they need.
Major takeaways in this chapter include:
- The 2020 U.S. Census recorded Virginia’s population at 8,654,542 residents, an increase of more than half a million in a decade and a full percent increase since 2019, reversing the previous slowing trend in annual growth.
- Metro areas are gaining population while rural areas are losing residents. The Northern Virginia suburbs, the Richmond region, and the Northern Shenandoah Valley are growing the most rapidly while the most pronounced losses have been in Southside, Southwest, and the Alleghany Highlands.
- Natural increase and international immigration are driving population growth, not residents moving from other states.
- Virginia is becoming more ethnically and racially diverse, especially within younger age groups. Non-white population growth outpaces that of the white population, particularly in metro areas.
- Virginia is aging. The over-55 cohort is the largest age group in the state, increasing demand for smaller houses—particularly ones suitable for aging-in-place—from renters and owners alike.
The number of new Virginians added per year has been getting smaller, although last year’s Census count may buck the trend.
Virginia’s population surpassed eight million just over ten years ago. Since then, the Commonwealth added more than half a million new residents. While Virginia continues to grow, the relative number of new residents has been getting smaller each year. Up until 2019, population estimates showed Virginia’s growth rate waning nearly every year.
That trend may be changing. In April 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau released the state apportionment results from the 2020 Census, which tallied the Commonwealth’s population at 8,654,542—more than a full percent increase from the 2019 estimate.
The U.S. Census Bureau has additional information on the changes that Virginia has experienced from the 2010 Census to the 2020 Census here. Interactive dashboards created by the U.S. Census Bureau allow you to explore changes at the locality level in terms of population, diversity, and age.
Virginia’s population growth is not evenly distributed; large portions of the Commonwealth are losing residents. Every Large and Small Metro Housing Market has grown since 2010, especially those along the urban crescent and throughout the Shenandoah Valley. The three fastest growing metro areas are the Northern Virginia suburbs, the Richmond region, and the Northern Shenandoah Valley.
Over the same period, Virginia’s rural population has consistently declined. The most pronounced losses have been in Southside, Southwest, and the Alleghany Highlands. However, 2020 Census counts showed that recent estimates for rural Virginia may have overestimated population losses of the past decade. The Chesapeake Bay, Southside, and Southwest markets all had above-expected population counts in last year’s decennial census.
Populations also shifted dramatically within markets. By sorting metro areas into submarkets, it is possible to explore the types of communities with the largest population increases and decreases. Since 2010, the highest population growth—more than 14 percent—has occurred in lower density areas along the I-95 corridor, dense urban cores in Northern Virginia, and suburban localities surrounding major cities.
Lower-density urban cores have seen the smallest relative growth (just below three percent) among all submarkets in major metro areas. These are the central cities in the Richmond-Petersburg area and Hampton Roads.
Within smaller markets, both cities and their surrounding counties are growing, although cities have a slight edge. Three of the four rural submarkets are shrinking, with the largest declines occurring in small cities and counties not along the Chesapeake Bay.
Finding 3: Virginia is growing from natural increases and international immigration, not people moving from other states.
The basic components of population change include births, deaths, and migration—both domestic and international. The net difference between births and deaths is the “natural” increase or decrease in population.
Since 2010, Virginia’s population growth has been entirely the result of natural increases and immigration from other countries. Since 2014, more Virginians have moved to another state than other Americans have moved to Virginia.
However, figures from the last few years show that the state’s natural population increases are slowing. The domestic migration “deficit” is getting smaller, and foreign migration numbers have declined sharply. If these recent trends continue, in the near future population growth may be driven more by individuals and families moving to Virginia from other states.
Natural increases and foreign migration are driving population growth in Large Metro Housing Markets. Domestic and foreign migration is driving growth in Small Metro Housing Markets. While Rural Housing Markets have seen a small increase in immigrants from other nations, they are experiencing both natural population decline (more deaths than births) and domestic migration deficits.
From 2010 to 2019, births and foreign immigration in the urban crescent has driven Virginia’s population growth. Hampton Roads experienced a larger natural increase than Richmond, but Richmond was the only market to see major growth from people moving into Virginia from other states. Small Markets in the Shenandoah Valley also experienced slight net increases in domestic migration. These markets, including Charlottesville and Winchester, have attracted more residents over the past decade.
Although a majority of Virginians (60 percent) identified as white in the 2020 Census, growth among the non-white population is outpacing white population growth. This is especially true in the Large and Small Metro Housing Markets of Virginia where on average the non-white population has grown by more than 50 percent, while the white population across all markets has declined.
Race and ethnicity in the 2020 Census
The greater-than-expected rise in the non-white population—and commensurate shrinking of the white population—surprised researchers when the 2020 Census results were released.
This phenomenon is very likely in part because of the changing ways Americans are choosing to identify their race and ethnicity.
In the 2010 Census, just over 71 percent of Virginians identified themselves as white. That number steadily declined over the past decade as the Commonwealth continued to become more diverse, falling to just above 69 percent in the 2019 population estimates.
However, that share dropped significantly—to 60 percent—in the 2020 Census. Last year, larger shares of Virginians chose to identify themselves as multiracial (up to 8.2 percent from 2.5 percent in 2010) or of another race (up to 5.7 percent from less than one percent in 2010).
Over this same period, the share of Virginians who are Black remained just below 20 percent, and the share of those who are Asian increased steadily from 5.6 percent to 7.1 percent.
Like much of the United States, the Hispanic population in Virginia is seeing major growth. Hispanics in rural Virginia are compensating for the decline in non-Hispanics. Without this growth, Rural Housing Markets in Virginia would suffer further from a shrinking workforce and tax base.
The Hispanic population has increased by 63 percent in Small Metro Housing Markets from 2010 to 2020, the largest percent change in Virginia.
In 2019, approximately 12 percent of Virginia’s population was born in another country. The largest share of Virginia’s foreign born population (42 percent) was from Asia while 36 percent was from Latin America. Much of Virginia’s immigrant population comprises naturalized citizens who are a significant factor in population growth in all three housing markets in Virginia.
Virginia’s population shifts by age resemble a barbell, with all the growth occurring at the ends of the spectrum. The largest growing age cohort over the last ten years is 55 and over, especially “young” seniors between 65 and 74. There are also 100,000 more elderly Virginians who are 75 and older and who have more specific housing needs. The number of middle-age Virginians—between 35 and 54—has declined, while the 25 to 34 cohort showed strong gains as millennials fully graduate into adulthood.
The average age of Virginia’s statewide population is 38 years, but is 45 years in communities around the Chesapeake Bay, in the Alleghany Highlands, and throughout Southwest Virginia. These rural areas continue to age at a much faster rate than their more populous counterparts in other parts of the state.
Some of the youngest areas of the state are actually outside of the urban crescent, including college towns and cities in the New River Valley (Blacksburg and Radford) and Central Valley (Harrisonburg and Lexington). However, most younger-than-average localities are located in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
Most rural communities in Virginia are losing population on the whole but gaining numbers of people over 55—mainly due to current residents aging into retirement. However, these gains are much more significant in both Large and Small Markets in the rest of the state, especially in the 65 to 74 cohort.
Many of these urban and suburban Virginians are looking to downsize as they reach their senior years. This increases competition for an insufficient number of smaller homes. Less affluent and less mobile seniors—especially those with disabilities—face challenges of accessibility and maintenance needs.
Most seniors continue to live alone or with their spouse though there has been a small increase in the number of seniors living with extended family. Married or single seniors living independently experience both sides of the housing stability coin: while they may now need “less house” to live comfortably, caring for themselves or each other will become increasingly difficult as they age without younger household members to provide care.
As a result, many mobile senior households are seeking smaller homes in denser areas, especially neighborhoods near services and amenities. This stock is also popular with young adults seeking their first home to purchase, setting up high levels of demand.
In 2012, more than 330,000 Virginians over 65 had a disability. As of 2019, that number had increased to 410,000. Many of those seniors are in Southwest and Southside, where more than one in five older adults have a disability.
In these less dense areas, seniors must travel further to shop, visit family, and get healthcare. Many types of disabilities make those necessary daily activities even more challenging, especially when public transportation is limited. Older housing in rural areas is often less accessible and in need of more maintenance than newer homes in other parts of the state.
Large Markets have the most racially and ethnically diverse population of children and college-age adults. There is also a large and growing diverse youth cohort in Small Markets. The youth population in rural Virginia is becoming increasingly diverse as well due to a larger share of the Black population. Overall, the strongest growth is in Hispanic and multiracial youth.
While households of all sizes are seeing rapid growth in Large Markets in Virginia, the same cannot be said for other parts of the Commonwealth. The largest declines in household size are happening in the rural areas of Virginia, where overall population declines are occurring in large part due to loss of economic opportunities and an aging population.
In Small Markets, three-or-more person households are stagnating while one- and two-person households are seeing the greatest growth. The growth of one-person households in rural areas has outpaced all other household sizes—likely in large part to an increase in seniors living alone.
The average size of renter households is also decreasing more rapidly than the average size of owner households.
Large Markets have had the largest average household sizes for both owners and renters, but those sizes have declined significantly since 2010. Renter households in Small Markets have also gotten smaller, while owner-occupied households in those areas have stayed about the same size. The size of renter households in Rural Markets has not changed significantly, but owner households there have bucked the trend and increased in size steadily over the last decade.
Over the past ten years, older homeowners accounted for the largest increase in new households in Virginia. Conversely, the largest decrease in new households is among young and middle-aged homeowners. This can be attributed to baby boomer homeowners aging into older cohorts and to the millennials’ low ownership rates. This may be due partly to the ability of higher-wealth older adults to outcompete less wealthy younger buyers for homes, especially smaller homes in highly desirable markets.
In contrast, growth in renter households is steadily increasing across all ages between 25 and 74. This indicates a demand for rental housing options attractive and accessible to every age group.
Over the past decade, each major market group has seen a decrease in young homeowners and an increase in homeowners over the age of 65. Out of all the housing markets, Rural Markets had the greatest loss of non-senior homeowners. This reflects the overall trend of shrinking populations in rural areas and population growth in urban and suburban areas. There also has been a significant increase in middle-age and older renter households in both Large and Small Markets.
Finding 5: Hispanic, Asian, and Multiracial Virginians are the only groups with more homeowners now than in 2010.
The increase in renters across all age groups also applies to all racial and ethnic categories in Virginia. Although there are now over 40,000 more white renter households, they experienced the smallest growth compared to 2010. Hispanic, Asian, and Multiracial Virginians saw the largest relative increase in renter households. These three groups are also the only Virginians who saw real increases in the number of homeowners since 2010.
However, the homeownership gap has not narrowed for most racial and ethnic groups, especially for Hispanic and Multiracial Virginians, due to a concurrent rise in renters that outpaces the rise in homeowners.