Metro Area Gains, Rural Counties Lose Population, U.Va. Cooper Center Study Finds

January 28, 2008 — Virginia's population reached 7.7 million on July 1, 2007, increasing by more than 633,000 since the 2000 federal census, according to estimates released today by the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. The commonwealth has the 12th-largest population in the nation. While Virginia's population continues to increase, its rate of growth has declined in recent years.

Population growth occurs through two factors. Since 2000, Virginia gained 324,000 citizens through what demographers call "natural increase," when the number of births exceeds the number of deaths. Population also changes as a result of people moving in and out of the state. Since 2000, Virginia netted an estimated total of 315,000 residents from migration, split almost equally between those moving to the commonwealth from other states and from other countries.

The pattern of population change in Virginia is dramatically uneven throughout the state. A relatively small number of very fast-growing localities in and around Virginia's three major metropolitan areas — Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and Richmond — fuel the commonwealth's population increases.

"Growth in Virginia is driven by explosive expansion in Northern Virginia," noted Michael Spar, research associate with the Cooper Center's Demographics and Workforce unit. Loudoun County alone has experienced a population increase of 62.5 percent since 2000, accounting for one-sixth of the total population increase for the entire commonwealth. Other localities in Northern Virginia show large population increases and high growth rates, as do suburban counties around Richmond, Fredericksburg and Hampton Roads.

On the flip side, 31 Virginia counties and cities have lost population since 2000. Most are older central cities (Richmond, Petersburg, Portsmouth and Roanoke) and rural localities in Southside and Southwest Virginia. While the cities generally experience natural increase (more births than deaths), migration out of the cities creates a population decline. Population losses in some Southside and Southwest localities (such as Buchanan, Dickenson, Martinsville and Grayson) are more challenging, resulting from both deaths outnumbering births and out-migration.

"Virginia is increasingly becoming an urban state. The combined population living in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Tidewater is now at 5.3 million, or roughly seven out of 10 Virginians," Spar said.

The Weldon Cooper Center's annual population estimates are the official figures for the Commonwealth of Virginia in the interim between federal censuses, which are conducted at the beginning of every decade. They are used by state and local government agencies in revenue sharing, funding allocation, planning, and budgeting.

For information, contact Mike Spar, research associate, Demographics & Workforce, at (804) 371-0202 or by e-mail at