Northern Virginia is on the front lines of a demographic transformation shaping the United States. There has been an extraordinary amount of population growth in Northern Virginia. In 2022, the Northern Virginia population was 74% more than in 1990 when the population was 1,466,350.
The COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States in March 2020 and the emergency declaration was lifted in May 2023. The pandemic changed the country's and region's demographic migration patterns significantly due to the substantial rise in remote work. Remote work is providing people with the opportunity to move to places away from employment centers. Most people relocate for family-reasons, housing reasons, and for more affordable, lower cost of living according to the U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey. Young adult, first time home buyers are the largest, working-age demographic group that are choosing to move to more affordable areas. In the four years since the pandemic, the country has had a wave of out-migration from urban areas to suburban and rural areas or smaller urban areas. The shift to remote work is one of the most impactful societal changes impacting demographic trends in the country and region, and likely will shape future trends for a long time.
From July 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021, the nation's most populous areas, including Northern Virginia, experienced significant out migration and population declines. This was the first and only annual decline in Northern Virginia since the Census Bureau annual record keeping began in 1970, with a decline of an estimated 7,800 persons.
Population Projection - 2023
2022 to 2023
The 2023 population estimates for the nation were released in December 2023 by the U.S. Census Bureau. The correlations between the national and regional trends are used to project Northern Virginia's 2023 population, while the region awaits the county-level data that is scheduled to be released by the Bureau on or before March 29, 2024.
The Northern Virginia region's trends have closely aligned with the national trends in international migration and natural increase (births - deaths) since 2010, as indicated in the data displayed on the interactive data charts found below in the Annual Estimates and Trends. The most uncertain component of the population is the rate at which the national and regional trend in out-migration from urban areas to areas of lower population and lower cost of living will occur over the coming years because of the societal shift to remote work since the pandemic. This societal shift may have a long-lasting impact on demographic trends in Northern Virginia.
In Virginia, between 2022 and 2023, out-migration from urban areas to smaller areas continued, according to an analysis by the Weldon Cooper Center. National-level analysis conducted by demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institute indicates that "as the pandemic subsides and legal, normative, and informal barriers to in-person interaction continue to be lifted, not only will newly formed households begin to add to national migration rates, but established households may also be more inclined to move"*. As indicated in the data and charts found below in the Annual Estimates and Trends, Northern Virginia's net domestic migration in the first year of the pandemic was -32,151 and it was more pronounced in the second year, at -37,414, when more societal barriers to movement and social interaction had subsided. With barriers continuing to subside from 2022 to 2023, Northern Virginia's net domestic migration from 2022 to 2023 is projected to be similar to 2021 to 2022.
From July 1, 2022 to July 1, 2023 NVRC's Senior Regional Demographer, Jill Kaneff, projects that the population growth has accelerated but remains slower than pre-pandemic levels. The population growth projection is 6,700. This is higher than the growth of 2,800 from July 1, 2021 to July 1, 2023, yet less than pre-pandemic growth amounts. The projection was developed by analyzing components of change.
Net International Migration: The COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States in March 2020. Pandemic global travel restrictions were relaxed near the end of 2021. Following the lifting of pandemic traveling restrictions, there was a significant increase in net international migration for the nation and in Northern Virginia. From 2019 to 2022 Northern Virginia has absorbed 2.3% to 2.6% of the net international migration of the country, with the average being 2.4%. Assuming the average of 2.4%, 26,197 is the projected net international migration for 2022 to 2023.
Natural Change: Northern Virginia has been experiencing a similar natural change rate trend since 2019 compared to the nation. The natural change rate per 1,000 persons in the country was 2.1 for 2019-2020 and declined during the pandemic to a low of 0.4 for 2020-2021 and rose to 1.5 for 2022-2023, a rate still below pre-pandemic times. The natural change rate per 1,000 persons in Northern Virginia was 7.4 for 2019-2020. The rate declined during the pandemic to a low of 6.3 for 2020-2021. Mirroring national and regional trends, the projected regional rate is 7.0 for 2022-2023, which would calculate to a projected natural change of 17,905
Domestic Migration: Remote work has shaped new trends that are providing people with the opportunity to move from high cost of living areas such as Northern Virginia to lower cost of living areas. The domestic migration rate per 1,000 persons has nearly doubled since pre-pandemic times, going from -7.8 in 2019-20 to 14.7 from 2021-2022. From 2022-2023 the rate is projected to be the same as 2021-2022, which would calculate to a projected net domestic migration of -37,475.
Northern Virginia Regional Commission's projection of growth for July 1, 2022 to July 1, 2023 is similar to the Weldon Cooper Center's estimated population growth of 7,500 for the region, which is derived using a completely different methodology. Given that comparable results were reached using two distinct methodologies, there is high confidence in the reliability of both 2022 to 2023 population growth figures.
* Source: William Frey, Brookings Institute, Americans’ Local Migration Reached a Historic Low in 2022, but Long-Distance Moves Picked up, February 2, 2023.
Population, Natural Change (Births/Deaths), Migration
Annual estimates of population and the components of change (domestic migration, international migration, births, and deaths) paint a portrait of the annual growth patterns in the towns of Northern Virginia. Annual estimates are not based on a full census of the population. Rather, they are estimates based on a compilation of multiple administrative data pieces such as birth records and residential building permits. The estimates are obtained from the U.S. Census, which benchmarks estimates to the Decennial Censuses. Decennial Census data represents the population as of April 1 of the year, whereas the annual estimates are as of July 1 of each year.
The 2020 to 2022 estimates are benchmarked to the 2020 Decennial Census. The 2010 to 2019 estimates are benchmarked to the 2010 Decennial Census, and the U.S. Census Bureau has yet to be adjust this series to reflect the results of the 2020 Decennial Census. Until data adjustments occur, annual growth amounts may be somewhat overstated or understated from 2010 to 2020.
Decennial Census Data:
The Decennial Census is based on a survey of the entire population. It is conducted once a decade. The 2020 Decennial Census population was released on August 12, 2021. The Decennial Census regional, county, and city population data is shown in the interactive charts that follow.
In 2020, Northern Virginia's population was 2,550,337 according to the Decennial Census. The population increased from 1,466,409 in 1990, a 74% increase in the 30 year period from 1990 to 2020.
Northern Virginia added approximately 320,000 people in this past decade, 2010 to 2020. This is 96,000 or 23% less than the previous decade, signaling a significant slowdown in the pace of growth. However, growth still continues at a high amount.
Virginia’s population grew by 630,369 from 2010 to 2020, of which 50.7% of that growth was in Northern Virginia.
In 2020, 29.5% of Virginia’s population was in Northern Virginia, compared to 27.9% in 2010.
Growth peaked in 2010. Growth in Northern Virginia has slowed since 2010. It has trended down annually since 2010, but it is still large and impactful growth that the the region is facing.
The localities in Northern Virginia the growth is occurring in this decade is different in some ways than in the 1990s and 2000s.
The preponderance of population growth of Northern Virginia continues to be located in the outer-ring suburbs of Prince William, Loudoun Counties, and the Cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. However, the share of the region's growth that is in the outer-ring has dropped from 65.1% in the 2000 to 2010 period to 61.5% in the 2010 to 2020 period.
Arlington has seen its share of the region's growth more than double from what it experienced in the 2000's.
Alexandria has seen its share of the region's growth become 2.2 times what it experienced in the 2000's.
Intensification of developmental pressures this decade in the inner-core is a response to the millennial generation preferences, demographics, urbanization, transportation and other market pressures.