Metro Areas Will Grow Larger, Rural Areas Will Grow Older

September 11, 2023 By Bryan McKenzie, bkm4s@virginia.edu Bryan McKenzie, bkm4s@virginia.edu

Its rate of growth may be slowing, but Virginia’s population is still increasing with almost a half-million new residents expected to inhabit the commonwealth between 2020 and 2030, according to figures from the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

The numbers show that Virginia’s growth rate is expected to slow to about 5.8% over the current decade, compared to the brisker increase of nearly 8% recorded between 2010 and 2020. Even a slowdown means nearly 500,000 more people will make Virginia their home by 2030, increasing the state’s population to 9.1 million.

“Historically, the statewide growth rate has fluctuated over the decades, and this slower pace of growth is not unanticipated given the nature of the current demographic trends of lower births, higher deaths and fewer people moving in,” said Shonel Sen, senior demographer from the Cooper Center’s Demographics Research Group.

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The research shows most Virginians remain clustered in the state’s big metro areas.

“The prominent rural-urban divide is expected to continue in this decade, with over 70% of Virginians being in the three largest metropolitan areas and just 11% of the populace living in rural communities,” Sen said. The rest of the state’s population is spread out among smaller cities and towns.

The projections predict Northern Virginia will be home to well over a third of the state’s residents with a share of 37% of the population, or about 3.4 million people. The next largest region will be the Richmond area at 18%, or 1.64 million people, and Hampton Roads at 17% or 1.59 million people.

Virginia’s population is not just getting bigger and more metropolitan, it’s also getting older. The statewide share of the older adult population – aged 65 and above – is expected to grow from 12% in 2010 to 19% in 2030 and beyond.

Not only will one of every five Virginians be older than 65 by 2030, but several rural localities including Lancaster, Highland, Northumberland, Middlesex, Mathews, Northampton and Charles City counties will have more than a third of their populations in that in that age group.

According to the projections, Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties are expected to be the top three communities in population by 2030. Loudoun, New Kent and Stafford counties are expected to be the quickest growing with Loudon potentially increasing its population by 24% between 2020 and 2030, the figures show.


Virginia Populations by County 2030-2050 A color coded map of Virginia, broken up by county, that illustrates metro areas are estimated to grow larger over the next 30 years.
  • < -10%
  • -10-0%
  • 0-10%
  • 10-20%
  • > 20%

UVA’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service created population projections for communities in Virginia that are used by local and state agencies and nonprofits for planning and investment. (Graphic by Jonelle Kinback, University Communications)

Northern Virginia’s population is projected to grow by 11% while the non-metro areas in the state are expected to shrink by 5%.

Sen said the Cooper Center projections are used by government, businesses, and nonprofits to help with urban planning, investing and allocating resources.

“It is important to remember that projections are subject to uncertainty and need to be regularly updated,” Sen said. The impact of the pandemic on employees working from home, among other changes, can’t be fully accounted for in the projections, Sen said.

Those impacts will be incorporated in the future rounds of projections, Sen said.

Media Contact

Bryan McKenzie

Assistant Editor, UVA Today Office of University Communications