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Tennessee Could Add Nearly 1 Million New Residents by 2040

Screenshot showing the Tennessee population projections dashboard

Tennessee could grow by nearly a million people over the next 20 years and reach a total population of 7.87 million by 2040.

The Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research, housed within the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, released population projections that include data on age and race demographics for each of the state’s 95 counties from 2020 to 2070.

Chart showing Tennessee's population for each decade from 1920 through 2020 and projected population from 2030 to 2070

Tennessee’s population has more than tripled in the last century. It grew from 2.34 million in 1920 to a total of 6.91 million according to the 2020 Census. Its projected to add an additional million new residents by 2040.

They 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. This increase reflects growth among the state’s 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—a nearly 40 percent increase. For comparison, the number of people under age 20 will grow only 13 percent over the same period and reach 1.9 million people.

Matt Harris, associate professor of economics and researcher for the Boyd Center population projections, noted that the senior population growth would 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 does play a part,” Harris said.

Chart showing population change between 2020 and 2040 for three age groups: youth, prime working age and seniors.

Tennessee’s senior population will grow by 469,000 people between 2020 and 2040. The increase in the number of people 65 years and older is expected to account for nearly half of the state’s total population gain over the next two decades.

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 whole. With just an expected 7.9 percent growth among this group, the number of available workers could become a limitation on the state’s productivity. Harris also noted that the growing senior population could place additional constraints on the labor force as families balance employment and elder care 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 Continue to 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, will add 211,000 people by 2040. Two out of three people in the state will be white, down from 73 percent in 2020. The share of the population that is non-Hispanic Black or African Americans will remain at 16.7 percent in 2040, but will add 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 from 5.9 percent in 2020 to 10.2 percent by 2040. The residual, “Other or two or more races” category is also expected to increase from 4.1 percent to 6.4 percent by 2040.

Chart showing projected population change by race/ethnicity in Tennessee from 2020 to 2040

Between 2020 and 2040, the fastest growing racial and ethnic groups will be “Hispanic” and “Other Non-Hispanic” races (Including “Two or More Races”).

Future Projection Updates

2020 Census data that includes detailed age, sex and race/ethnicity is not yet available in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Estimates data. Boyd Center researchers note that at the county level, differences between the estimates and decennial census were a cause for concern. This was particularly true in Davidson County were the estimates fell 21,000 people below the county’s official 2020 tally of 715,884.

Further, the new data reflecting the impact of COVID-19 pandemic in the second half of 2020 and 2021 aren’t available either.

“Ultimately, these projections serve as a very interim update. Many of factors that we evaluate for this project including births, deaths and state-to-state migration have changed in some way due to the pandemic,” Harris said. “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 Boyd Center is evaluating the release of an additional projection update in the fourth quarter of 2022 if sufficient data are available.

Other findings

  • The state’s population growth will slow over the next two decades. Tennessee recorded an 8.9 percent population increase between 2010 and 2020. Between 2020 and 2030, it’s expected to fall to 7.7 percent. It could slow even further to 6.2 percent between 2030 and 2040.
  • The 13-county Nashville Metropolitan Statistical Area will likely grow by 563,000 people in the next twenty years, capturing 57 percent of the state’s total increase.
  • Between 2010 and 2020, 30 Tennessee counties lost population. By 2040, the number counties recording a year-over-year decline could climb to 40.
  • The state’s 78 rural counties are expected to add over 225,000 new residents – an increase of 8.9 percent. Urban counties are projected to add about 765,000 residents and increase 17.5 percent.