Population Growth and Trends in Northwest Oregon

by Erik Knoder

April 27, 2018

Natural population growth turned negative in Northwest Oregon as older, rural counties record more deaths than births.

Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties combined to record 142 more deaths than births from July 2016 through July 2017. The chart shows the natural increase (births minus deaths) in the combined population of Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties. The natural increase underwent a long-term decline in the region throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Although the number of births has exceeded the number of deaths for most years, the region may be starting a new trend.
The modest decrease in natural population change in 2017 was a drop from the previous year and a change from most recent years. The decrease for the region was due primarily to the natural decrease in just two of the counties: Lincoln and Tillamook. Clatsop and Columbia were nearly balanced between births and deaths. Benton County is by far the largest of the five counties, and it had a large natural increase.

Benton County is often the outlier in northwest Oregon. It has the largest percentage of people ages 18 to 64, thousands of college students, and it is the only complete metro area in the region. The county had 739 births and 595 deaths from July 2016 through July 2017 for a net natural increase of 144.

Columbia County has a population age distribution that is fairly similar to the state’s distribution. The county had 479 births and 462 deaths over the time period for a natural increase of 17. The natural population change in Columbia County fluctuates to an unusual degree from year to year, primarily due to swings in the number of births in the county.

Clatsop County had a small natural decrease of 11 over the year. The county is more rural in character and older than Benton and Columbia counties. Clatsop County had 409 births and 421 deaths. The county usually has a small natural increase in population, but seems to run a natural decrease every few years.

Lincoln and Tillamook counties both had substantial natural population losses, which is typical for rural counties. Natural population loss is traditionally the case for these two counties that are notable for their older-aged populations. Twenty-five percent of Tillamook County’s population is age 65 or older and about 28 percent of Lincoln County’s population is 65 or older. Tillamook County had 244 births and 338 deaths over the year for a net natural decrease of 94. Lincoln County has the oldest population of the five counties in northwest Oregon. The county has had more deaths than births for more than 20 years. Lincoln County had 405 births and 602 deaths for a net natural decrease of 198 in the year to July 2017.


Net immigration, mostly from surrounding counties, also adds to the region’s population. It slowed during the Great Recession then picked up again since 2011. In 2006 net migration was about 2,500. By 2010 it was down to 271 people. In 2017 it was at a record-setting 3,022. All five counties had net in-migration, and migration accounts for the majority of the population growth in the region.

Future population growth within the region will be governed not just by employment opportunities, but also by the quality of life, affordability, commuting times, and a host of other reasons. The Corvallis metro area, the coastal areas and the parts of Columbia County close to the Portland metro area usually grow the fastest.

Based on estimates and projections provided by the Population Research Center and the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, Northwest Oregon’s population is anticipated to grow from 253,995 in 2015 to 260,652 when 2020 rolls around.

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