Population Growth and Trends in Northwest Oregon

by Erik Knoder

May 9, 2023

Natural population growth remained negative in Northwest Oregon in 2022 as all five counties recorded more deaths than births.

Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties combined to record 1,131 more deaths than births from July 2021 through June 2022. The natural decrease in population in 2022 was a further drop from the previous year. For the second year all five counties – Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook had more deaths than births. Additionally, four of the counties experienced their largest natural decreases since at least 1982, and Lincoln County had a natural decrease that was only two short of last year’s record drop.

Benton County is usually 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 648 births and 719 deaths from July 2021 through June 2022 for a net natural decrease of 71 people. Benton County had 1,689 people move into the county over the year – also a record. It is likely that much of the in-migration was related to the end of pandemic restrictions at Oregon State University.

Columbia County is the second largest county in Northwest Oregon and has a population age distribution that is fairly similar to the state’s distribution. The county had 492 births and 646 deaths from July 2021 through June 2022 for a net natural decrease of 154. The natural population change in Columbia County fluctuates between an increase and a decrease from year to year, usually due to swings in the number of births in the county. During this period, however, there was a large decrease in the number of births.

Lincoln County had a natural population loss of 424 from July 2021 through June 2022. Natural population loss is traditionally the case for Lincoln County, which is notable for its older-aged population. About 31% of Lincoln County’s population is 65 or older, and it has the oldest population of the five counties in Northwest Oregon. Lincoln County had 364 births and 788 deaths over the year. The number of births in Lincoln County dropped by about 100 from the previous year.

Clatsop County had a natural decrease of 260 over the year to July 2022. The county’s population is older than in Benton and Columbia counties. Year-to-year natural changes in the population are usually small, but the past couple years have logged large natural decreases. Clatsop County had 312 births and 572 deaths over the 12 months.

Tillamook County had a net natural decrease of 222 people – its largest drop since at least 1982. Tillamook County has the smallest population of the five counties in Northwest Oregon. Twenty-eight percent of the county’s population is age 65 or older, and the county has had a net natural decrease in population in most years since 1987. Tillamook County had 219 births and 441 deaths from July 2021 through June 2022.

Births decreased in every county in Northwest Oregon over the year through June 2022, and they decreased statewide as well. Deaths decreased in four of the five counties, and increased by only four in Clatsop County. Deaths also decreased statewide, but just like Northwest Oregon, not enough to offset the drop in births. Oregon recorded its second net natural decrease in population in recent times, and it was a larger drop than in 2021. This trend was apparent nationally also; the Census Bureau reported that a record 74% of U.S. counties experienced a natural decrease in population in 2022. The number of counties experiencing a natural population decrease nationally is high compared with historical trends.


Net migration, mostly from surrounding counties, also adds to the region’s population. Migration resulted in a net increase of just 1,100 new residents for the region in 2021. In 2022 net migration to the region rose to 3,861, boosted by the return of students to Oregon State University. Migration is a major concern because recently it accounts for all 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, telecommuting, 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.

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