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Urbanization & Changing Demographics

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Population Growth in North Carolina

As of 2020, North Carolina was the ninth most populous state in the country with 10.4 million residents. By 2030, that number is expected to reach nearly 12 million.

As of 2015, over half of North Carolina’s population was living in only 13 counties, all of which are within metropolitan areas. According to Carolina Demography, “virtually all (99%) of the state’s growth is projected to occur in counties that belong to either metropolitan or micropolitan areas.”

Population growth will be uneven across North Carolina: Projected population growth, 2010-2035

Source: Carolina Demography, Carolina Population Center at UNC Chapel Hill

A Diversifying Population

Population Change by Race/Ethnicity, NC Census Tracts, 2000-2010

Source: Carolina Demography, Carolina Population Center at UNC Chapel Hill

North Carolina is also becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. In 2015, 32% of state residents belonged to a minority group. Urban areas, in particular, have seen significant demographic shifts in recent years (see maps at right). Between 2000-2010, rural areas experienced a notable decline in the Non-Hispanic Black population, while urban areas saw large increases. During that same time, the Asian population grew by nearly 100,000, with almost all growth in the Triangle and Charlotte. The Hispanic population grew statewide, but with the largest growth occurring in the Triangle, Charlotte, and Fayetteville in addition to the more rural Sampson and Lee counties.

North Carolina’s metropolitan areas are home to a greater concentration of the state’s foreign-born population, as well as English-language learners (see Table 1). Nearly 11% of residents living in the state’s more urban counties (characterized here as having over 200,000 people) are foreign-born, compared to only 5% of residents in the rest of the state. Almost 15% of urban county residents speak a language other than English at home, compared to only 8% of residents in the state’s more rural counties. While most urban county residents who reported speaking a non-English language at home are speaking Spanish (58%), a number of other languages are also prevalent among urban, non-English speakers, such as Chinese, Vietnamese, and African languages.

Table 1: North Carolina's Foreign-Born Population and Non-English Speakers

Implications for N.C. Cooperative Extension

North Carolina’s landscape is changing rapidly. Now, more than ever, communities of all sizes are in need of research-based solutions to address critical issues like land use, food systems, youth development, and more. As the state’s population continues to urbanize, N.C. Cooperative Extension is making an intentional effort to cultivate resources and champions across the rural-urban continuum to carry this important work into the future. Learn more about our work in urban areas of the state.