It’s a time of excitement for thousands of 5-year-olds (and their parents) in North Carolina. As a new school year begins, many of these children will start kindergarten.
According to current OSBM projections, there are more than 120,000 5-year-olds in North Carolina, many of them facing this seminal transition into elementary school. That number has been relatively flat for the last several years as a result of fewer births driven by both declines in fertility rates and slower growth in the age groups in which families are formed. The number of 5-year-olds in the state was higher in the early 2010s. And the number is expected to dip below 120,000 over the next five years.
Of course, the point isn’t about how many kids turn five in our state each year. It’s about the impact of changes in the young child population on our communities. Decisionmakers must rely on population projections of children when planning for schools, housing, services, and amenities that appeal to young families.
Although the number of 5-year-olds is not expected to grow for a few years, planners looking farther ahead still need to factor in schools and playgrounds. The tide is projected to turn by the end of this decade and the number of 5-year-olds is expected to continue rising thereafter.
Projected Population of 5-year-olds in North Carolina by Year
Growth in Child Population Compared to Other Age Groups
The trend for all children (under 18) roughly follows the same pattern. We anticipate more growth in the child population by the end of the decade. However, by 2031 the number of North Carolinians 65 and older is expected to exceed the number of children in our state for the first time.
Change in Population by Age Group, 2000-2050
While the child population will be growing, no age group can match the rate of growth of the older population. Within the next five years, one of every five North Carolinians will be 65 or older. This also must be factored into community planning.
Child Population Not Growing Uniformly
Although North Carolina’s child population is expected to grow in the coming decades, it will not grow uniformly. As some counties plan for new schools and playgrounds, others will see little growth or even a decline in their young child population. Not every county is poised to see double-digit growth in the number of young children between now and 2050. See the population projections for counties by age on the State Demographer’s data platform.
Counties like Currituck, Johnston, Union, Franklin, and Cabarrus are expected to see notably higher growth in the number of young children in their jurisdictions. The light green counties on the map below should expect growth in the number of 5-year-olds above the state average.
Meanwhile, several counties should anticipate a drop in young children over the coming 30 years. The light blue counties on the map are projected to have fewer 5-year-olds by 2050 than today.
You can use the map below to see the range of projected growth or loss across of 5-year-olds across all North Carolina counties between now and 2050.
It’s safe to say, each year many thousands of young children will continue to start kindergarten in our state. By 2030, we expect the number of these youngest learners to begin climbing. However, changes in the child population will not be uniform across the state. Counties experiencing higher than average growth will experience more growth in the child population. Other counties will experience a loss in the number of young children living in their communities.
No matter where they live in our state, we hope North Carolina’s 5-year-olds of today and in the coming decades have a great year whenever they make their transition into kindergarten.
For more data on North Carolina population projections and estimates, please visit the State Demographer Data Platform.