U.Va.’s Weldon Cooper Center Releases its First-Ever Study of Age and Gender Estimates for Virginia

August 15, 2006 — Virginia’s school-age population grew by 125,000 between 2000 and 2005, while the elderly population increased by 77,000, according to a new study released by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center.

Compiled by the center’s Demographics and Workforce Section, this first-ever study of population figures – which focuses on gender as well as age – shows that the school-age and elderly groups account for more than 40 percent of the state’s total population growth.

“The age and gender estimates can be very useful as city and county governments develop their plans and budgets for education, health and human services and public safety,” said Qian Cai, director of demographics and the principal researcher for the study. Beginning in 2006, the center will prepare the age and gender estimates on an annual basis, together with the estimates for county and city populations.

The largest increases in the 0-17 age group were seen in counties whose total population experienced the largest or fastest growth. Loudoun County topped the list with an increase of more than 24,000, followed by Prince William (21,700) and Fairfax counties (14,200). The same counties topped the list in the 65 years and older age group. Fairfax added 13,500 elderly people in the five-year period, while Prince William and Loudoun grew by 7,000 and 6,500 respectively.

The three localities with the largest percentages of residents in the 0-17 age group were Stafford County, followed closely by Spotsylvania and Prince William counties. This age group comprised approximately 30 percent of these counties’ total population as compared to 25 percent for the state as a whole. Rounding out the list were Lexington, Williamsburg, Radford, Montgomery and Charlottesville, all of which are college towns. Additionally, nearly two dozen localities in Southwest, Southside and eastern Virginia had a 0-17 population group comprising less than 20 percent of their respective total populations.

For the percentage of the 65 years and older population, the top three localities were all in eastern Virginia: Lancaster (29 percent), Northumberland (27 percent) and Middlesex (24 percent). Many localities in western, Southwest and Southside, Va., also have a considerably higher elderly percentage than the state’s average of 11.5 percent. This reflects significant population aging in those localities because their young population leave in search of better economic opportunities. At the bottom of the list was a mix of the fastest growing localities, including Prince William, Stafford and Loudoun counties; old central cities such as Alexandria, Virginia Beach and Norfolk; and college towns such as Harrisonburg, Montgomery and Radford.

“These localities all share a common characteristic that results in a younger age structure in statewide migration,” Cai said. “Young adults move to the central cities for employment and education opportunities, and families with children move to the metro suburb counties for more space and better schools.”

In 2005, the median age for Virginia, which indicates the point at which half of the population is above and half is below, was 35.9. The variation for the state’s 134 localities, however, was tremendous, ranging from a median age of 23 in Harrisonburg to a median age of 53 in Northumberland. While 30 localities were younger than the state as a whole, the remaining 104 were older.

The study also ranked each Virginia locality in terms of its “dependency ratio,” which is derived by dividing the combined under-18 and 65-and-over populations by the 18-to-64 population and multiplying by 100. The localities with the highest dependency ratios are those with the largest aging communities, including Lancaster, which topping the list with a ratio of 90, followed by Northumberland (81) and Martinsville (78). The state’s average dependency ratio was 56.


For more information about the Weldon Cooper Center and this new study, please contact Qian Cai, director of Demographics and Workforce Section, at (434) 982-5581 or caiq@virginia.edu.