“America’s shrinking cities are widely viewed to be suffering from a “brain drain”—the flight of highly educated residents to other, more hospitable locales—that is crippling these cities’ economic competitiveness. While such cities have many problems, brain drain as popularly conceived is not one of them. Indeed, the conventional wisdom on brain drain and declining human capital in shrinking U.S. metropolitan areas is largely a myth: brain gain, not drain, is the reality….

…even major U.S. cities that are shrinking in terms of jobs and/or population are adding thousands of new residents with college degrees. While a majority of such metros are experiencing net domestic out-migration of residents with a college degree [more people moving out than moving in], this is being more than offset by other factors.” – Aaron M. Renn, “Brain Gain in America’s Shrinking Cities

None of North Carolina’s 14 metropolitan areas experienced population losses between 2000 and 2014, though population growth patterns varied significantly. Rocky Mount saw both the smallest numeric gains and slowest growth over this time period. Rocky Mount’s total population grew from just over 143,000 in the 2000 Census to nearly 149,300 in the 2014 American Community Survey, an increase of 4.4%. The Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia metro area (NC and SC counties included) grew by the largest amount between 2000 and 2014, gaining nearly 663,000 new residents over this time period (38.6% growth rate). The Raleigh metro grew the fastest, gaining nearly 446,000 new residents for an increase of 55.9%.

In all 14 metro areas, the population age 25 and older grew at a faster rate than the total population, and the population 25 and older who held at least a bachelor’s degree or more grew even faster. These reflect, in part, generational shifts in college completion: young adults today are significantly more likely to complete high school and subsequently complete college compared to older generations. As older generations are replaced by younger generations, overall educational attainment should increase.

NC Metro Brain Gain

Between 2000 and 2014, the number of adults 25 and older living in North Carolina’s 14 metropolitan regions increased by 1.23 million. More than one in two of these new adults had at least a bachelor’s degree. The number of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased by nearly 656,000, representing 53% of adult population growth in NC metro areas.

Rocky Mount saw the smallest percentage increase in highly educated adults (20%) while Charlotte had the largest (85%). Growth of the adult population with a bachelor’s degree or more made up two-thirds or more of total adult population growth between 2000 and 2014 in two metro areas: Asheville (74%) and Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton (66%).

Note: This post uses the most recent OMB metropolitan delineations. 2000 Census data were aggregated to current boundaries.

  • How can we help you learn more about your community?

    Contact Us