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Mapped: A Decade of Population Growth and Decline in U.S. Counties

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map showing changes in population in the us from 2010 to 2020

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A Decade of Population Growth and Decline in U.S. Counties

There are a number of factors that determine how much a region’s population changes.

If an area sees a high number of migrants, along with a strong birth rate and low death rate, then its population is bound to increase over time. On the flip side, if more people are leaving the area than coming in, and the region’s birth rate is low, then its population will likely decline.

Which areas in the United States are seeing the most growth, and which places are seeing their populations dwindle?

This map, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, shows a decade of population movement across U.S. counties, painting a detailed picture of U.S. population growth between 2010 and 2020.

Counties With The Biggest Population Growth from 2010-2020

To calculate population estimates for each county, the U.S. Census Bureau does the following calculations:

A county’s base population → plus births → minus deaths → plus migration = new population estimate

 
From 2010 to 2020, Maricopa County in Arizona saw the highest increase in its population estimate. Over a decade, the county gained 753,898 residents. Below are the counties that saw the biggest increases in population:

RankCountyPoint of ReferenceStatePop. Growth (2010–2020)
#1Maricopa CountyPhoenix, ScottsdaleArizona+753,898
#2Harris CountyHoustonTexas+630,711
#3Clark CountyLas VegasNevada+363,323
#4King CountySeattleWashington+335,884
#5Tarrant CountyFort Worth, ArlingtonTexas+305,180
#6Bexar CountySan AntonioTexas+303,982
#7Riverside CountyRiverside, Palm SpringsCalifornia+287,626
#8Collin CountyPlanoTexas+284,967
#9Travis CountyAustinTexas+270,111
#10Hillsborough CountyTampaFlorida+264,446

Phoenix and surrounding areas grew faster than any other major city in the country. The region’s sunny climate and amenities are popular with retirees, but another draw is housing affordability. Families from more expensive markets—California in particular—are moving to the city in droves. This is a trend that spilled over into the pandemic era as more people moved into remote and hybrid work situations.

Texas counties saw a lot of growth as well, with five of the top 10 gainers located in the state of Texas. A big draw for Texas is its relatively affordable housing market. In 2021, average home prices in the state stood at $172,500$53,310 below the national average.

Counties With The Biggest Population Drops from 2010-2020

On the opposite end of the spectrum, here’s a look at the top 10 counties that saw the biggest declines in their populations over the decade:

RankCountyPoint of ReferenceStatePop. Growth (2010–2020)
#1Cook CountyChicagoIllinois-90,693
#2Wayne CountyDetroitMichigan-74,224
#3Cuyahoga CountyClevelandOhio-50,220
#4Genesee CountyFlintMichigan-20,165
#5Suffolk CountyLong IslandNew York-20,064
#6Caddo ParishShreveportLouisiana-18,173
#7Westmoreland CountyMurrysvillePennsylvania-17,942
#8Hinds CountyJacksonMississippi-17,751
#9Kanawha CountyCharlestonWest Virginia-16,672
#10Cambria CountyJohnstownPennsylvania-14,786

The largest drops happened in counties along the Great Lakes, including Cook County (which includes the city of Chicago) and Wayne County (which includes the city of Detroit).

For many of these counties, particularly those in America’s “Rust Belt”, population drops over this period were a continuation of decades-long trends. Wayne County is an extreme example of this trend. From 1970 to 2020, the area lost one-third of its population.

U.S. Population Growth in Percentage Terms (2010-2020)

While the map above is great at showing where the greatest number of Americans migrated, it downplays big changes in counties with smaller populations.

For example, McKenzie County in North Dakota, with a 2020 population of just 15,242, was the fastest-growing U.S. county over the past decade. The county’s 138% increase was driven primarily by the Bakken oil boom in the area. High-growth counties in Texas also grew as new sources of energy were extracted in rural areas.

The nation’s counties are evenly divided between population increase and decline, and clear patterns emerge.

population changes in u.s. counties (%)

Pandemic Population Changes

More recent population changes reflect longer-term trends. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the counties that saw the strongest population increases were located in high-growth states like Florida and Texas.

Below are the 20 counties that grew the most from 2020 to 2021.

RankCountyPoint of ReferenceStatePop. Growth (2020–2021)
#1Maricopa CountyPhoenixArizona+58,246
#2Collin CountyPlanoTexas+36,313
#3Riverside CountyRiverside, Palm SpringsCalifornia+35,631
#4Fort Bend CountySugar LandTexas+29,895
#5Williamson CountyGeorgetownTexas+27,760
#6Denton CountyDentonTexas+27,747
#7Polk CountyLakelandFlorida+24,287
#8Montgomery CountyThe WoodlandsTexas+23,948
#9Lee CountyFort MyersFlorida+23,297
#10Utah CountyProvoUtah+21,843
#11Pinal CountySan Tan ValleyArizona+19,974
#12Clark CountyLas VegasNevada+19,090
#13Pasco CountyNew Port RicheyFlorida+18,322
#14Wake CountyRaleighNorth Carolina+16,651
#15St. Johns CountySt. AugustineFlorida+15,550
#16Hillsborough CountyTampaFlorida+14,814
#17Bexar CountySan AntonioTexas+14,184
#18Ada CountyBoiseIdaho+13,947
#19Osceola CountyKissimmeeFlorida+12,427
#20St. Lucie CountyFort PierceFlorida+12,304

Many of these counties are located next to large cities, reflecting a shift to the suburbs and larger living spaces. However, as COVID-19 restrictions ease, and the pandemic housing boom tapers off due to rising interest rates, it remains to be seen whether the suburban shift will continue, or if people begin to migrate back to city centers.

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Demographics

The Countries That Have Become Sadder Since 2010

Tracking Gallup survey data for more than a decade reveals some countries are witnessing big happiness declines, reflecting their shifting socio-economic conditions.

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A cropped chart showing the top countries with the biggest happiness declines (measured out of 10) between 2010–24.

The Countries That Have Become Sadder Since 2010

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Can happiness be quantified?

Some approaches that try to answer this question make a distinction between two differing components of happiness: a daily experience part, and a more general life evaluation (which includes how people think about their life as a whole).

The World Happiness Report—first launched in 2012—has been making a serious go at quantifying happiness, by examining Gallup poll data that asks respondents in nearly every country to evaluate their life on a 0–10 scale. From this they extrapolate a single “happiness score” out of 10 to compare how happy (or unhappy) countries are.

More than a decade later, the 2024 World Happiness Report continues the mission. Its latest findings also include how some countries have become sadder in the intervening years.

Which Countries Have Become Unhappier Since 2010?

Afghanistan is the unhappiest country in the world right now, and is also 60% unhappier than over a decade ago, indicating how much life has worsened since 2010.

In 2021, the Taliban officially returned to power in Afghanistan, after nearly two decades of American occupation in the country. The Islamic fundamentalist group has made life harder, especially for women, who are restricted from pursuing higher education, travel, and work.

On a broader scale, the Afghan economy has suffered post-Taliban takeover, with various consequent effects: mass unemployment, a drop in income, malnutrition, and a crumbling healthcare system.

RankCountryHappiness Score
Loss (2010–24)
2024 Happiness
Score (out of 10)
1🇦🇫 Afghanistan-2.61.7
2🇱🇧 Lebanon-2.32.7
3🇯🇴 Jordan-1.54.2
4🇻🇪 Venezuela-1.35.6
5🇲🇼 Malawi-1.23.4
6🇿🇲 Zambia-1.23.5
7🇧🇼 Botswana-1.23.4
8🇾🇪 Yemen-1.03.6
9🇪🇬 Egypt-1.04.0
10🇮🇳 India-0.94.1
11🇧🇩 Bangladesh-0.93.9
12🇨🇩 DRC-0.73.3
13🇹🇳 Tunisia-0.74.4
14🇨🇦 Canada-0.66.9
15🇺🇸 U.S.-0.66.7
16🇨🇴 Colombia-0.55.7
17🇵🇦 Panama-0.56.4
18🇵🇰 Pakistan-0.54.7
19🇿🇼 Zimbabwe-0.53.3
20🇮🇪 Ireland-0.56.8
N/A🌍 World+0.15.5

Nine countries in total saw their happiness score drop by a full point or more, on the 0–10 scale.

Noticeably, many of them have seen years of social and economic upheaval. Lebanon, for example, has been grappling with decades of corruption, and a severe liquidity crisis since 2019 that has resulted in a banking system collapse, sending poverty levels skyrocketing.

In Jordan, unprecedented population growth—from refugees leaving Iraq and Syria—has aggravated unemployment rates. A somewhat abrupt change in the line of succession has also raised concerns about political stability in the country.

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