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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

U.S. Census data: Brunswick, Pender counties among state's fastest growing counties

Carolina Demography

About 42% of the nation’s counties have declining populations — but not ones in the Cape Fear region. That’s according to U.S. Census Bureau data released this week.

According to Carolina Demography, the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 county population estimates show North Carolina’s population grew by about 1% compared to 2020. The national rate of growth is 0.1%.

Where Counties are Growing[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

Even though counties in the state have growing populations, demographers say North Carolina had a “natural decrease” for the first time, meaning more deaths than births were recorded; hence, the county population increases stem mainly from migration — meaning both moving to North Carolina from elsewhere and moving around from one part of the state to another.

For the Cape Fear region, compared to last year, Brunswick county had the highest growth in the state at 5.5% (Brunswick actually tied with Currituck for the largest increase) — adding 9,031 people to their population.

Pender County also grew by about 4.3%, adding 2,811 people. New Hanover County grew by about 1.5%, adding 4,006 people.

Cape Fear region population growth comparison
Carolina Demography/U.S. Census Bureau
Cape Fear region population growth comparison

Further, Brunswick County, a leading destination for retirees, had the largest difference between mortality and birthrate in the state, having 1,509 more deaths than births.

Researchers from Carolina Demography said most of the coastal county growth comes from net in-migration, meaning more people are moving to the region. And the data further suggest a potential “pandemic migration” to coastal counties — but researchers said more data is needed to understand this pattern.

More information and analysis from Carolina Demography: “County estimates show more deaths than births, pandemic migration”

Correction: This article initially stated that 73% of the nation's counties had declining populations — that more accurately describes the percentage of counties with "natural decrease," meaning more deaths than births. Counties with natural decrease can still have a growing population due to migration. The correct figure for counties with stagnant or decreasing populations is 42%.

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR