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

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

Ranked: The Most and Least Livable Cities in 2022

Which cities rank as the best places to live worldwide? This map reveals the world’s most and least livable cities.

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livable cities

Ranked: The Most and Least Livable Cities in 2022

Pandemic restrictions changed the livability of many urban centers worldwide as cultural sites were shuttered, restaurant dining was restricted, and local economies faced the consequences. But as cities worldwide return to the status quo, many of these urban centers have become desirable places to live yet again.

This map uses annual rankings from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) to show the world’s most livable cities, measuring different categories including: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.

A Quick Note on Methodology

The ranking attempts to assess which cities across the globe provide the best living conditions, by assigning a score on 30 quantitative and qualitative measures across the five categories with the following weightings:

  1. Healthcare (20%)
  2. Culture & Environment (25%)
  3. Stability (25%)
  4. Education (10%)
  5. Infrastructure (20%)

Of the 30 factors within these categories, the qualitative ones are assigned as acceptable, tolerable, uncomfortable, undesirable, or intolerable by a team of expert analysts. Quantitative measures are given a score based on a number of external data points. Everything is then weighted to provide a score between 1-100, with 100 being the ideal.

Ranked: The 10 Most Livable Cities

Of the 172 cities included in the rankings, many of the most livable cities can be found in Europe. However, three of the top 10 are located in Canada: Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto.

Vienna has been ranked number one many times, most recently in 2019. According to the EIU, the Austrian capital only fell out of the top slot during the pandemic years because its famous museums and restaurants were shuttered.

RankCityCountryScore
#1Vienna🇦🇹 Austria99.1
#2Copenhagen🇩🇰 Denmark98.0
#3Zurich🇨🇭 Switzerland96.3
#3Calgary🇨🇦 Canada96.3
#5Vancouver🇨🇦 Canada96.1
#6Geneva🇨🇭 Switzerland95.9
#7Frankfurt🇩🇪 Germany95.7
#8Toronto🇨🇦 Canada95.4
#9Amsterdam🇳🇱 Netherlands95.3
#10Osaka🇯🇵 Japan95.1
#10Melbourne🇦🇺 Australia95.1

Only one Asian city, Osaka, makes the top 10 list, tying with Melbourne for 10th place. Notably, not a single U.S. city is found in the top ranks.

Editor’s note: Two cities tie for both the #3 and #10 ranks, meaning that the “top 10” list actually includes 12 cities.

Ranked: The 10 Least Livable Cities

Some of the least livable cities in the world are located across Africa and Central Asia.

RankCityCountryScore
#163Tehran🇮🇷 Iran44.0
#164Douala🇨🇲 Cameroon43.3
#165Harare🇿🇼 Zimbabwe40.9
#166Dhaka🇧🇩 Bangladesh39.2
#167Port Moresby🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea 38.8
#168Karachi🇵🇰 Pakistan37.5
#169Algiers🇩🇿 Algeria37.0
#170Tripoli🇱🇾 Libya34.2
#171Lagos🇳🇬 Nigeria32.2
#172Damascus🇸🇾 Syria30.7

Many of the least livable cities are within conflict zones, contributing to the low ratings. However, these regions are also home to some of the world’s fastest growing cities, presenting many opportunities for ambitious residents.

The Biggest Changes in Ranking

Let’s take a look at the cities that moved up the global rankings most dramatically compared to last year’s data.

Moving Up: The 10 Most Improved Cities

CityCountryOverall RankRank Change
Frankfurt🇩🇪 Germany#7+32
Hamburg🇩🇪 Germany#16+31
Dusseldorf🇩🇪 Germany#22+28
London🇬🇧 UK#33+27
Manchester🇬🇧 UK#28+26
Paris🇫🇷 France#19+23
Brussels🇧🇪 Belgium#24+22
Amsterdam🇳🇱 Netherlands#9+21
Athens🇬🇷 Greece#73+19
Los Angeles🇺🇸 US#37+18

Here’s a look at the cities that fell the most in the rankings since last year’s report.

Moving Down: The 10 Cities That Tumbled

CityCountryOverall RankRank Change
Wellington🇳🇿 New Zealand#50-46
Auckland🇳🇿 New Zealand#34-33
Adelaide🇦🇺 Australia#30-27
Perth🇦🇺 Australia#32-26
Houston🇺🇸 US#56-25
Reykjavik🇮🇸 Iceland#48-25
Madrid🇪🇸 Spain#43-24
Taipei🇹🇼 Taiwan#53-20
Barcelona🇪🇸 Spain#35-19
Brisbane🇦🇺 Australia#27-17

According to the report, a number of cities in New Zealand and Australia temporarily dropped in the ranking due to COVID-19 restrictions.

It’s also worth noting that some Eastern European cities moved down in the rankings because of their close proximity to the war in Ukraine. Finally, Kyiv was not included in this year’s report because of the conflict.

Urbanization and Livability

As of 2021, around 57% of the world’s population lives in urban centers and projections show that people worldwide will continue to move into cities.

While there are more amenities in urban areas, the pandemic revealed many issues with urbanization and the concentration of large populations. The stress on healthcare systems is felt most intensely in cities and restrictions on public outings are some of the first measures to be introduced in the face of a global health crisis.

Now with the cost of living rising, cities may face pressures on their quality of life, and governments may be forced to cut spending on public services. Regardless, people worldwide continue to see the benefits of city living—it’s projected that over two-thirds of the global population will live in cities by 2050.

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Demographics

Ranked: The 20 Countries With the Fastest Declining Populations

Population decline is a rising issue for many countries in Eastern Europe, as well as outliers like Japan and Cuba.

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Visualizing Population Decline by Country

Since the mid-1900s, the global population has followed a steep upwards trajectory.

While much of this growth has been concentrated in China and India, researchers expect the next wave of growth to occur in Africa. As of 2019, for example, the average woman in Niger is having over six children in her lifetime.

At the opposite end of this spectrum are a number of countries that appear to be shrinking from a population perspective. To shed some light on this somewhat surprising trend, we’ve visualized the top 20 countries by population decline.

The Top 20

The following table ranks countries by their rate of population decline, based on projected rate of change between 2020 and 2050 and using data from the United Nations.

RankCountryDecline 2020-2050
1🇧🇬 Bulgaria22.5%
2🇱🇹 Lithuania22.1%
3🇱🇻 Latvia21.6%
4🇺🇦 Ukraine19.5%
5🇷🇸 Serbia18.9%
6🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina18.2%
7🇭🇷 Croatia18.0%
8🇲🇩 Moldova16.7%
9🇯🇵 Japan16.3%
10🇦🇱 Albania15.8%
11🇷🇴 Romania15.5%
12🇬🇷 Greece13.4%
13🇪🇪 Estonia12.7%
14🇭🇺 Hungary12.3%
15🇵🇱 Poland12.0%
16🇬🇪 Georgia11.8%
17🇵🇹 Portugal10.9%
18🇲🇰 North Macedonia10.9%
19🇨🇺 Cuba10.3%
20🇮🇹 Italy10.1%

Many of these countries are located in or near Eastern Europe, for reasons we’ll discuss below.

The first issue is birth rates, which according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), have fallen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Across the region, the average number of children per woman fell from 2.1 in 1988 to 1.2 by 1998.

Birth rates have recovered slightly since then, but are not enough to offset deaths and emigration, which refers to citizens leaving their country to live elsewhere.

Eastern Europe saw several waves of emigration following the European Union’s (EU) border expansions in 2004 and 2007. The PIIE reports that by 2016, 6.3 million Eastern Europeans resided in other EU states.

The Outliers

There are two geographical outliers in this dataset which sit on either side of Europe.

Japan

The first is Japan, where birth rates have fallen continuously since 1970. It wasn’t until 2010, however, that the country’s overall population began to shrink.

By the numbers, the situation appears dire. In 2021, 811,604 babies were born in Japan, while 1.44 million people died. As a result of its low birth rates, the island nation also has the world’s highest average age at 49 years old.

The Japanese government has introduced various social programs to make having kids more appealing, but these don’t appear to be getting to the root of the problem. For deeper insight into Japan’s low birthrates, it’s worth reading this article by The Atlantic.

Cuba

The second country is Cuba, and it’s the only one not located within the Eastern Hemisphere. Cuba’s fertility rate of 1.7 children per woman is the lowest in the Latin American region. It can be compared to countries like Mexico (2.2), Paraguay (2.5), and Guatemala (3.0).

Cuba’s immigration is also incredibly low compared to its neighboring countries. According to the International Organization for Migration, immigrants account for just 0.1% of its total population.

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