Atlanta Surges in Growth as Metro Area Exceeds 45% of Georgia’s Population

In 2016 we wrote about Atlanta’s explosive growth since 2010 and nothing has changed over the past two years. In fact, Atlanta’s growth has accelerated since 2015 as the city gained 23,000 residents between 2015 and 2017 based on the latest US Census estimates. Atlanta had the 10th largest population increase among the country’s largest cities between 2016 and 2017, adding just 5,000 fewer people than Los Angeles, a city 8 times its size. Of the major cities and counties in the Atlanta metro area, only Forsyth County grew at a faster rate between 2010 and 2017 than the City of Atlanta. Remember, Atlanta lost around 100,000 residents between the 1950’s and 1980’s – a period known in America as the great urban exodus or the “great white flight” as most major cities saw dramatic population declines. Atlanta is well on its way to reversing those losses as the city added 66,000 residents between 2010 and 2017.

Atlanta Leads the Way in Growth

The chart below shows the population of major cities in the Atlanta metro area from 2010 to 2017 (we’re including Athens and Gainseville, though by most classifications, they’re not part of the Atlanta metro area).

Atlanta Cities Population 2017

Atlanta far outpaced the other cities in terms of total residents added. Perhaps this isn’t surprising since Atlanta is, by far, the largest city in both the metro area and state. It is surprising, though, when put in the proper historical context: a major city that saw huge population declines as residents moved to the suburbs in the latter half of the 20th Century is now outpacing those suburban cities in growth. As the chart below shows, Atlanta led the way in growth between 2010 and 2017 followed by Alpharetta, Gainseville, and Peachtree Corners. Only Gainseville (5.8%) grew at a faster rate between 2016 and 2017 than Atlanta (2.9%).

Atlanta Cities Population Growth, 2010-2017


Metro Area Counties Account for 45 Percent of Georgia’s Population

Forsyth County grew nearly 30 percent between 2010 and 2017, almost twice as fast as Cherokee County (15.35%). Gwinnett and Fulton followed closely behind Cherokee to round out the top 4 fastest growing counties in the metro area this decade. The charts below the total population of each county, their growth rates, and each county’s share of the total metro area population. In 2017, Fulton County accounted for 22.1 percent of the metro area’s population, up from 21.9 percent in 2010. Forsyth increased its share of the total population by .6 percent and Gwinnett increased its share by .3 percent. Notably, Cobb and Dekalb both saw decreases in their share of the total metro area population from 2010 to 2017.


The charts below show each county’s share of Georgia’s population for 1990, 2010, and 2017. The most striking change is that the metro area in 2017 accounted for 45 percent of the entire state’s population. That’s up from around 39 percent of the state’s population in 1990. Gwinnett rose from 5.5 percent of the state’s population in 1990 to 8.8 percent in 2017. Fulton ticked down from 10 percent in 1990 to 9.5 percent in 2010, but then regained its 10 percent share in 2017. Predictably, Dekalb has seen a major decline in its share while Forsyth’s share has risen from .7 percent in 1990 to 2.2 percent in 2017

Except for Macon, the state’s other major cities have all seen growth this decade. The chart below shows the population of Georgia’s largest cities on the left axis and the growth rates of those cities on the right axis. Atlanta, Sandy Springs, Athens, Roswell, and Savannah have all seen solid growth while Columbus and Augusta have seen slight population increases since 2010.


Finally, let’s take a look at all Georgia counties. The interactive map below shows the population figures for every county in the state with the color representing population growth since 2010 – the darker the color, the greater the growth. While Georgia has added about 700,000 people since 2010, most of the growth is concentrated in the Atlanta metro area, north Georgia counties, and coastal counties. Nearly all the counties in south Georgia lost population while those in metro Atlanta posted huge population gains. Overall, 77 of Georgia’s 159 counties lost population between 2010 and 2017.

Long County in southeast Georgia barely eclipsed Forsyth (31% vs. 30%) to become the fastest growing county in the state. Forsyth, though, has significantly more people, which means many more people had to move to Forsyth in order to post nearly the same growth rate as Long. Turner County in south Georgia lost the largest share of its population (10.85%), though that equates to a loss of only 1,000 people since Turner is such a small county.


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