By on 5.30.23 in Carolina Demographics, NC in Focus

Dr. Michael Cline is the state demographer for North Carolina at the Office of State Budget and Management and has given us permission to re-post his content here.

On May 25, 2023, the US Census Bureau published the Demographic Profile and Demographic and Housing Characteristic (DHC) datasets for the 2020 Census. These datasets provide a more expansive picture of the population counted in the 2020 Census than the 2020 Census data published to date. From the DHC and Demographic Profiles, you can get a clearer picture of your community’s population, families, households, and housing. There is a lot to digest, so we have highlighted a few interesting statistics to give you a hint of what you can find in these data products.

Rural and Urban Population

1.    North Carolina’s rural population is the 2nd largest rural population in the country. There were 3,474,661 people living in rural North Carolina as of April 1, 2020.  While Texas’ rural population was larger (4,744,808), a greater percentage of North Carolinians (33%) lived in rural areas than Texans (16%). The Census Bureau defines concentrated areas of 2,000 or more housing units or about 5,000 or more people as urban while all other areas are considered rural. See Making Sense of the New “Urban Area” Definitions for more on the Census Bureau’s definitions.

2.    The majority of the population in 64 counties lived in rural areas. In fact, in 24 counties, the entire population lived in rural areas and in another, Caswell County, all but 39 people lived in rural areas in 2020.

3.    Mecklenburg County remains the most urban county. Ninety-nine percent of Mecklenburg County residents lived in an urban area, followed by New Hanover (98%), Durham (95%), Wake (95%), and Forsyth (92%) Counties.

Age and Racial/Ethnic Characteristics

4.    Brunswick County’s older adult population more than doubled. In 2020, there were 47,027 people aged 65 or older, an increase of 24,001 or 104.2% since 2010. The older adult population now accounts for 34.4% of the total population of Brunswick County.

5.    In a majority of North Carolina counties, at least 1 in 5 people are aged 65 or older. In 56 counties, the older adult population accounted for 20% or more of the total population. This compares to just 15 counties in 2010, a testament to the aging of the baby boom generation.

6.    School aged population grew in only 32 of our 100 counties. The largest gains in the school aged population (ages 5 to 17) were in Wake (34,971), Mecklenburg (22,646), Cabarrus (8,729), Johnston (8,426), Durham (5,717), and Union (5,199) Counties. Robeson (-4,717), Columbus (-2,177), Edgecombe (-2,154), and Halifax (-2,152) Counties had the largest losses in school aged population over the last decade.

7.    Half of the population of Onslow County was younger than 28. Home of Camp LeJeune and Marine Corp Air Station New River, Onslow County had the youngest median age of 28 in 2020. The 2nd youngest population was found in Watauga County (29), home of Appalachian State University; followed by Hoke (33) and Cumberland (33) Counties, home of Ft. Bragg.

8.    The Largest American Indian and Alaska Native Alone population lived in Robeson County. Home of the Lumbee Indians, there were 44,871 American Indian and Alaska Native Alone people living in the county in 2020. The next largest American Indian and Alaska Native Alone populations were found in Mecklenburg (6,700), Wake (5,756), Cumberland (5,556), Swain (4,171), and Jackson (4,098) Counties.

9.    5% or more of the population in 7 counties identified as American Indian or Alaska Native Alone in 2020. These counties included Robeson (39%), Swain (30%), Scotland (11%), Jackson (10%), Hoke (8%), Graham (7%), and Warren (5%) Counties. In addition to Robeson, a large number of Lumbee Indians live in Scotland and Hoke Counties. The Eastern Band of the Cherokee live primarily in Swain, Jackson, and Graham Counties and Warren County is home to the Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe. See Native American Population Sees Notable Increase in 2020 Census for more in this changing demographic.

Household Characteristics and Group Quarters Population

10.    Robeson County had the largest proportion of multi-generational households in 2020. Seven percent (3,097 households) of Robeson County households had 3 or more generations living within the same household. The average for all North Carolina counties was 4%. At 6% of households, larger proportions of multi-generational households were also found in Vance, Edgecombe, Hoke, Anson, Scotland, Jones, and Halifax Counties.

11.    Married couple families accounted for 64% of all households in Union County – the largest proportion found among North Carolina Counties. Union County was followed by Camden (61%), Currituck (60%), Lincoln (56%), Pender (56%), Brunswick (56%), and Chatham (56%) Counties.

12.    Guilford County had the largest number of students living in college/university student housing of any county in North Carolina. Home to North Carolina A&T, UNC-Greensboro, Greensboro College, Bennett College, and Guilford College, there were 20,084 students living in dormitory-style housing on or off campus. Guilford County was followed by Wake (11,890), Mecklenburg (10,035), Orange (9,993), and Durham (8,115) Counties.

13.    Watauga (12%) and Jackson (10%) Counties had the largest proportion of the population living in college/university student housing. Home of Appalachian State University and Western North Carolina University, respectively, there were 6,573 people in Watauga County and 4,238 people in Jackson County living in college/university student housing.

Housing Characteristics

14.    Almost half of all housing units in Dare County were vacant and used for seasonal, recreational, or occasional use. There were 15,960 seasonal housing units or 47% of Dare County’s total housing stock on April 1, 2020. Given that North Carolina remains a recreational destination, it is not surprising that Dare County was not the only county with a large percentage of seasonal housing units. In fact, in 35 of our 100 counties, 5% or more housing units were available for recreational use in 2020. The counties with the largest percentage seasonal units after Dare County were Avery (40% or 5,551 housing units), Carteret (33% or 16,782 housing units), Macon (31% or 8,213 housing units), and Hyde (27% or 854 housing units) Counties.

15.    Almost half of Durham County occupied housing units were rented. In Durham County, there were 64,301 renter occupied housing units or 48% of all occupied housing units in 2020. Durham County was followed in rank by Cumberland (47% or 60,104 renter units), Pitt (46% or 32,516 renter units), and Mecklenburg (46% or 204,590 renter units).

Find Out More!

There is much more that you can find in these resources. For your convenience, we have added a selection of statistics for the state, counties, or places (municipalities or Census Designated Places) to LINC and created a summary visualization. You can also access additional data or for smaller geographic areas at

Republish our content for free under a Creative Commons license.

Need help understanding population change and its impacts on your community or business? Carolina Demography offers demographic research tailored to your needs.

Contact us today for a free initial consultation.

Contact Us

Categories: Carolina Demographics, NC in Focus

Featured projects

Your support is critical to our mission of measuring, understanding, and predicting population change and its impact. Donate to Carolina Demography today.