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One in five Tennesseans will be 65 or older by 2040 and the state’s population is estimated to grow by more than 1 million people during that same period, according to the 2018–2070 population projections released this week by the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business.

About half of that growth will be in Middle Tennessee.

Change by age group

Boyd Center Associate Professor Matthew Harris, author of the projections, predicts that Tennessee’s population will climb 0.7 percent annually from its current estimate of 6.77 million in 2018 to 7.84 million in 2040. By 2070 that number is expected to reach 9.35 million, with a slightly lower projected annual growth rate of 0.45 percent.

“We expect population to grow more slowly over the coming decades than it has recently,” Harris said. “Falling birth rates and the fact that a very large cohort—the baby boomers—are aging both contribute to the decrease in population growth.”

Tim Kuhn, director of the Tennessee State Data Center, analyzed the data and projects that more than half of the growth by 2040 will be in Middle Tennessee, with Davidson, Williamson, Rutherford, Wilson, and Sumner Counties expected to gain more than a half million residents. Across the state, 66 counties will see population increases and 27 rural counties will experience decreases. Carter and Sullivan Counties in northeast Tennessee are the only urban counties expected to see slight decreases—of 0.46 percent and 0.01 percent, respectively—by 2040.

The number of people ages 65 and older is likely to increase by 1.9 percent annually, or 2.67 times faster than the state’s growth rate. The senior population will rise 46.7 percent by 2040, making one in five Tennesseans at least 65 years old. Factors such as declining death rates and more retirement-aged people moving to Tennessee are driving the aging population.

“The benefit of longer life expectancy and the overall attractiveness of Tennessee to retirees will also present challenges as this age group grows,” Kuhn said. “In areas such as housing and transportation, both urban and rural communities will be challenged to address the growing demand for senior services. This isn’t unique to Tennessee; it is becoming more of an issue across the nation and around the world.”

An aging population also means a decrease in the percentage of working-age adults ages 20 to 64, which is expected to fall from 58.9 percent in 2018 to 54.9 percent by 2040.

“Particularly in rural counties, we may be somewhat concerned about the ratio of working-age adults to retirees,” Harris said. “That has implications for local tax bases and the types of services that the population needs. To the extent that caring for older relatives decreases engagement in the workforce, effects of this demographic shift on actual labor force participation may be even more pronounced.”

After analysis of the population projections, Kuhn created an interactive county-level dashboard of the data. (A mobile version can be found here).

Dashboard image

Other findings from the population projections:

  • Rutherford County is on the move. Currently the state’s fifth-largest county, it’s projected to surpass Hamilton County for fourth-largest in 2026 and Knox County for third-largest by 2050.
  • The state’s white non-Hispanic population will decrease from 73.7 percent in 2018 to 66.6 percent by 2040 and 55.1 percent by 2070. This decline will occur in all Tennessee counties.
  • The Hispanic population is projected to almost double from 5.6 percent to 10.2 percent by 2040, bringing it to roughly 800,000.
  • With 1.32 million residents, the black non-Hispanic population will remain the second largest racial group in 2040. However, the state’s Hispanic population is projected to become the second-largest racial group by 2063 with 1.47 million residents.

The study uses birth and death records provided by the Tennessee Department of Health’s Office of Vital Statistics and migration data from US Census Bureau.


Erin Hatfield (865-974-6086,​