Man jogging on Little Sugar Creek Greenway in Charlotte

Older Adult Population is Projected to Expand in Most NC Counties

The next 20 years will see the older adult population grow. Urban and suburban counties will likely see more growth than others.

Author: Divya Venkataganesan, Rebecca Freeman, Swarna Reddy, NCDHHS

The older adult population (age 65+) is projected to grow in 78 of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Most of this growth will be from residents aging in the same place they live – often called “aging in place.” But North Carolina’s rich natural resources also make it a primary destination for retirees from other states. In addition, people who live in North Carolina may decide to move to retire in many of our rural retirement communities within the state. Finally, people may also decide to retire near family and healthcare resources, which may bring them to major metropolitan areas where job growth continues. According to the American Community Survey (ACS), an estimated 44,000 people aged 60 and above relocated to North Carolina from other states or abroad in 2022.

Urban Counties Will See Disproportionate Increase in Older Adult Population

Our two largest counties are set to become epicenters of substantial growth in the older adult population. The adult population 65 and over is expected to double in both Mecklenburg and Wake Counties (from 138,129 to 262,579 and 145,237 to 319,097 in Mecklenburg and Wake Counties, respectively). Other counties with substantial growth are suburban counties around Charlotte, the Triangle, Wilmington, and Virginia Beach-Norfolk, Virginia. Many of these counties consist of major retirement communities along the coast, in the Piedmont, or around a lake.

Map showing the percent change in the 65+ population by county

Today, there are 521,593 older adult North Carolinians aged 65 and over, living in our six urban counties (as defined by the North Carolina Rural Center). This population will nearly double in these counties to 920,907 older adults by 2041, which amounts to more than a third of the state’s older adults. The older adult population is expected to increase by 57% in the 16 regional center/suburban counties. Today, approximately 43% of North Carolina’s older adult population live in rural counties (780,695 people). By 2041, the proportion living in rural counties will decline to 36% (986,230 people). 

Estimated and Projected 65+ Population by County Type, 2021 and 2041

Bar Chart of population 65+ by county type, 2021 and 2041

North Carolina Responds to These Changes 

These changes have also caught the attention of many state leaders including Governor Roy Cooper, who on May 2, 2023, issued Executive Order 280. This order established NC’s commitment to building an age-friendly state and called upon the NC Department of Health and Human Services to develop a comprehensive, cross-sectoral plan to serve as a blueprint for the development, enhancement and coordination of critical services for the state’s rapidly aging population. This plan, known as All Ages, All Stages NC, will provide recommendations to guide state leaders’ policy and funding decisions as they work to meet the needs of a changing North Carolina for years to come.

See our related post, "North Carolina’s Older Adult Population to Almost Double in the Next 20 Years."

See Details About the Aging Population In Your County

You can see summaries of the past and projected populations of one or more counties using the State Demographer’s Older Americans in North Carolina visualization. This visualization shows what proportion of the population is 65+ and 85+ and provides more details of age and race/ethnicity characteristics.


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