A New Demographic Surprise for California: Population Loss


Within the state, work-from-home and remote study options also redistributed Californians, shifting the population from the coasts to inland counties last year. One of those inland counties, San Joaquin County in the Central Valley, grew last year by 1.3 percent, or more than 10,000 people. Another inland county in the Sierra Nevada foothills, Placer County, gained nearly 6,000 people, growing by 1.5 percent.

Population also was tragically lost to the pandemic, which increased California’s overall death rate by 19 percent in 2020. Some 51,000 more lives were claimed last year than would have been normally, according to the state’s three-year average, Mr. Palmer said, including more than 17,000 excess deaths in Los Angeles County, where the death rate was 27 percent higher than average last year.

Driven by Covid-19, death rates rose in 51 of the state’s 58 counties, with a dozen reporting increases of 20 percent or higher. Deaths last year were 62 percent higher than usual in Imperial County, on the Mexican border. San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, in Southern California’s Inland Empire, each reported more than 4,000 deaths in excess of their usual loss.


Declining birthrates — a nationwide trend that has been particularly acute in California — also slowed the natural increase in the population by some 24,000, Mr. Palmer said.

The average age of first birth in California has risen since 2010 from 28 to 31 as women have delayed motherhood, a function of improved employment prospects, higher living costs and the state’s higher levels of education. Fertility rates — defined as births per 1,000 women of childbearing age — have declined in California by more than twice the national average since 2010.

Mr. Johnson said the apparent shift was unlike contractions that have occurred elsewhere in the country.

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