The Demographic Research Group at University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center recently released the 2023 population estimates for Virginia’s counties and independent cities, giving us an insight into the changing demographic landscape of Virginia. Below are some of the highlights from the recent data, spanning the change in population from April 2020 through July 2023.

1. People have been moving from large to small metro areas since the beginning of the pandemic.

In a reversal of longstanding demographic trends, people have been moving away from large metro areas. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Northern Virginia has seen the highest outflow of population, with many moving to nearby smaller cities and counties like the Winchester Metro Area. At the same time, the Richmond Metro Area and nearby counties experienced its greatest influx of new residents in the period from 2020 to 2023. Keeping up with the trend of out-migration from cities into nearby suburbs, smaller suburban areas such as Suffolk and Bedford have seen an increase in population and surpassed the population levels of neighboring cities.

2. Rural counties across Virginia have seen an increased influx of population.

Three out of four rural counties outside metro areas in Virginia had more people move into them than out in the period from 2020 through 2023. This net positive change in population has been less obvious so far because of the higher pandemic-related death rate among the older population in rural counties. Home values in these rural localities have increased the fastest due to the increased in-migration. Moreover, the Weldon Cooper Center expects that the ten fastest growing school divisions over the next five years will be mostly in rural counties. 

3. The migration trends that were fueled by the pandemic are expected to stay.

While migration into rural counties and smaller cities has been on the upward trajectory, out-migration has dampened the growth and led to population decline in the largest localities in Virginia. Loudoun County, which saw close to 10,000 more residents moving in than leaving each year, had only eleven more people moving in than leaving in 2023. This trend of out-migration from large metro areas is not unique to Virginia but is being observed throughout the country. This shift has been fueled by the rise and persistence of remote work that grants people the flexibility to move to areas with lower costs and better standards of living. The need to live within commuting distance of major job centers is not as strong as it used to be and will continue affecting the population trends in Virginia for many years to come.

For more information on housing, demographic and economic trends in Virginia, be sure to check out Virginia REALTORS® other Economic Insights blogs and our Data page.