Author: Dr. Michael Cline
Channel your inner sci-fi nerd for a moment to imagine time traveling to the year 2050. What will North Carolina be like in 28 years? While it’s difficult for us to speculate on lifestyle or technology, we do have some insight into North Carolina 2050 by looking at population projections. What population projections tell us is that our state will be older and more diverse, with more people from other places than native North Carolinians, and a smaller ratio of workers to non-workers than there is today.
North Carolina’s Population to Reach 13.8 Million People by 2050
Given current trends, the State Demographer’s latest population projections show an increase of 3.4 million people over the next 30 years. This is an increase of 32% over the estimated 10.4 million living in North Carolina as of July 1, 2020. Here are the highlights:
Population Growth Driven by Net Migration
Over the course of the past three decades, net migration accounted for approximately two thirds of North Carolina’s population growth. As our population continues to age, net migration will become even more important for population growth. Beginning in the 2040s, these projections predict more deaths than births, thus all growth will depend upon more movers to North Carolina than those moving out.
North Carolina’s Population is Aging. What This Means for Workforce and Childhood Population
By 2029, every fifth North Carolinian will be 65 years old or older and by 2031, there will be more people in the traditional retirement ages than there are children (age 0-17). Our median age will rise from 39.2 in 2020 to 42.6 by 2050. Our median age was 35.4 in 2000! As the Baby Boom generation ages, we expect more people in the oldest ages. The trends shown in these projections predict an estimated 20,000 centenarians by 2050 (up from an estimated 4,000 in 2020).
There were 2.3 million children in North Carolina in 2020, accounting for about 22% of the total population. These population projections show that the childhood population will continue to grow much more slowly than in decades past. The childhood population will increase by half a million to 2.7 million by 2050. Children will account for 20% of the total population.
During the past decade, the working age population in North Carolina grew at a much slower rate than the previous decade (adding about 400,000 people compared to the 900,000 added during the 2000s), partly due to the larger Baby Boom cohort beginning to age out of the working ages. The first part of the Baby Boom generation reached retirement age of 65 in 2011. We expect this slower growth in the working age population to continue. Between 2020 and 2050, the working age population (18 to 64) will grow by about 1.7 million or 27% to 8.1 million by 2050. (See “Where Are the Workers” for more on this trend.)
North Carolina’s Population Becoming More Racially/Ethnically Diverse
North Carolina’s population is more racially and ethnically diverse than it was thirty years ago and these latest projections show increasing diversity over the next thirty years. By 2050, just over half of our population will be Non-Hispanic White (52%) – down from 61% in 2020. The Hispanic population has increased substantially over the last three decades and now accounts for about 11% of the population. We expect by 2050, 14% of our population will be Hispanic.
These projections suggest that the population of all racial groups will grow – but some much more rapidly than others. Due to these differentials in population growth, the black or African American population and the White population will account for a smaller proportion of the 2050 population (at 18% and 62%, respectively). Nine percent, 8%, and 2% of the population will be multi-racial, Asian, and American Indian/Alaska Native, respectively, by 2050 according to these projections.
Expect to See Continued Growth in Major Urban Counties
Wake County’s population ranked first in the state in 2020, followed by Mecklenburg County. These population projections show that these ranks will remain the same in 2050. However, several fast-growing counties are predicted to move up in the rank of the most populated counties by 2050.
By 2050, Durham, Union, and Cabarrus County are predicted to be the 5th, 6th, and 7th most populated counties, up from 6th, 8th, and 10th in 2020, respectively. Between 2010 and 2020, the majority of North Carolina’s 100 counties experienced population decrease. These population projections predict that 44 counties will experience population loss.
About These Population Projections
The State Demographer in the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management produces population projections annually. The annual population projections use historical censuses and the latest population estimates to produce population projections assuming a continuation of historical trends into the future.
These latest population projections were the first this decade to incorporate information from the 2020 Census. Like those produced last year, these projections also accounted for the impacts of COVID-19 on deaths, births, and net migration during the short term. You can access summary tables or the several datasets that provide population projections by sex, age, race and Hispanic origin for the state, regions, and counties.