Tennessee Could Gain a Million New Residents by 2040

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The Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research, housed in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business, released new population projections with breakdowns by age and race for each of the state’s 95 counties.

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The projections, which cover 2020 to 2070, show Tennessee’s population growing older and more diverse in the coming decades. By 2040, the state’s median age is projected to climb from 38.8 years to 40.7 years. The increase reflects continued growth among the state’s current fastest-growing age group: people 65 years and older.

An increase in the senior population is expected to push the number of retirement-aged people in the state from 1.18 million in 2020 to 1.65 million in 2020—an increase of nearly 40 percent. In contrast, the number of people under age 20 will grow only 13 percent over the same period, to 1.9 million.

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Matt Harris, associate professor of economics and researcher for the Boyd Center population projections, notes that the senior population growth is expected to account for roughly half (47.2 percent) of the state’s total projected increase over the next 20 years.

“Most of the growth in the senior population is driven by continued aging of the cohort born in the late 1950s and 1960s rather than by older individuals moving to Tennessee, although retirees moving to Tennessee do play a part,” Harris said.

The number of people in their prime working years, ages 25 to 54, is projected to increase at a slower pace than the state’s population as a whole—just 7.9 percent. As a result, the number of available workers could limit the state’s productivity. Harris also notes that a growing senior population could place additional constraints on the labor force as families balance employment and eldercare responsibilities.

“As the number of seniors in Tennessee continues to increase, so will the number of individuals requiring care. Much of that care is provided by families, particularly in areas where there are not options for formal care—either in-home or residential,” Harris said. “There is a considerable body of research showing that informal care to older relatives decreases engagement with the labor force.”

Tennessee’s Population to Continue Growing More Diverse

Racial and ethnic diversity among the state’s residents is also expected to continue increasing. Tennessee’s largest racial group, non-Hispanic white, is projected to add 211,000 people by 2040. Two out of three people in the state, or 66 percent, will be white, down from 73 percent in 2020. The share of the population that is non-Hispanic Black or African American is expected to remain at 16.7 percent in 2040 but will grow by 164,000 people.

As was the case between 2010 and 2020, the fastest-growing group will continue to be Hispanic. An addition of 394,000 people is expected to increase this group’s share of the total population from 5.9 percent in 2020 to 10.2 percent by 2040. The “other or two or more races” category is expected to increase from 4.1 percent to 6.4 percent by 2040.

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Future Projection Updates

The accuracy of the population projections is limited by the scope of information currently available. Age, sex, and race/ethnicity breakdowns from the 2020 census have not yet been released, and new data reflecting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet available

“Ultimately, these projections serve as a very interim update,” said Harris. “Many of the factors that we evaluate for this project, including births, deaths, and state-to-state migration, have changed in some way due to the pandemic. In some cases we know the degree of change and in other cases we are still waiting on data that will tell us the degree to which population will be affected in the long term.”

The center is considering the release of an additional projection update in the fourth quarter of 2022 if sufficient new data is available.

Other findings

  • The state’s population growth is projected to slow over the next two decades. Tennessee recorded an overall population increase of 8.9 percent between over the decade that ended in 2020. That rate is expected to slow to 7.7 percent by 2030 and to 6.2 percent by 2040.
  • The 13-county Nashville Metropolitan Statistical Area will likely grow by 563,000 people in the next 20 years, capturing 57 percent of the state’s projected total increase.
  • The number of counties recording a year-over-year decline in population—30 in 2020— could climb to 40 by 2040.
  • The state’s 78 rural counties are expected to add more than 225,000 new residents, an increase of 8.9 percent. Urban counties are projected to add about 765,000 residents, an increase of 17.5 percent.

View detailed results on an interactive dashboard. Additional information on the methodology behind the projections, an executive summary, and additional notes are available on the website of the Tennessee State Data Center. The center is housed within the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research, and Boyd Center faculty members collaborated on the dashboard.

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