Population Growth and Trends in Northwest Oregon

Population Growth and Trends in Northwest Oregon

by Erik Knoder

August 3, 2017

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

Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties combined to produce 57 more births than deaths from July 2015 through June 2016. The graph 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. No clear trend of change has emerged since then, although the number of births exceeds the number of deaths most years.

The modest increase in natural population in 2016 was a drop from the previous year and lower than most recent years. The increase was due to natural growth in just three of the counties: Benton, Clatsop, and Columbia. Benton County is by far the largest of the five counties, and it had the largest natural increase (+151). Columbia County had 56 more births than deaths over the 12 months, and Clatsop County squeaked into the growth category with just 13 more births than deaths.

Benton County is often the outlier in Northwest Oregon. It has the largest percentage of people ages 18 to 64 and thousands of college students, and it is the only complete metro area in the region. The county had 760 births and 609 deaths from July 2015 through June 2016.

Columbia County has a population age distribution that is fairly similar to the state’s distribution. The county had 512 births and 456 deaths over the time period. The natural population change in Columbia County fluctuates to an unusual degree, primarily due to swings in the number of births in the county.

Clatsop County had a small natural increase over the 12 months, and is more rural in character than Benton and Columbia counties. Clatsop County had 408 births and 395 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 natural population losses, 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. The county had 36 more deaths than births last year. Tillamook County had 261 births and 297 deaths over the 12 months.

Lincoln County has the oldest population of the five counties in northwest Oregon. About 27 percent of the population is 65 or older. The county has had more deaths than births for more than 20 years. The county logged 127 more deaths than births in the year to July 2016. Lincoln County had 580 deaths and 452 births.


Net immigration, mostly from surrounding counties, also adds to the region’s population. It slowed during the recession then picked up again since 2011. In 2006, net migration was about 2,500. By 2010, it was down to 271 people. In 2016, it was at a record-setting 2,878. 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 almost 260,652 when 2020 rolls around.