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Trends in Kentucky County Population

Jennifer Burnett

From 2010-2017, population grew in 55 Kentucky counties, but growth rates varied significantly across the state.

Statewide Population and National Comparison

From 2010-2017, the population of the state of Kentucky grew by 114,822, or 2.6%. Population growth in Kentucky was about half the growth rate for the U.S., which was 5.1% over this period. Thirty-two states grew faster than Kentucky.

Among the seven states that border Kentucky, four states (Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, and West Virginia) grew more slowly than Kentucky, or had a decline in population (Illinois and West Virginia) while three states (Indiana, Tennessee and Virginia) grew faster than Kentucky. Tennessee grew the most over this period among the seven bordering states, at a rate of 5.6%.

Total County Population Growth

Population in more than half of Kentucky counties declined from 2010-2017. For those 64 counties experiencing a decline in population, the total loss was 48,700. Those losses were counterbalanced by gains in 55 counties of 163,522. The population in one county – Graves County – remained the same.

Growing Counties

  • Jefferson County added the largest total number of residents from 2010-2017 (30,062), followed by Fayette County (26,156) and Warren County (15,053).
  • As a percentage of county population, Scott County grew the most (16.3%) followed by Warren County (13.2%) and Shelby County (12.7%).
  • Six counties had double digit growth rates from 2010-2017 (Boone, Madison, Oldham, Scott, Shelby and Warren County).

Shrinking Counties

  • Pike County lost the largest number of residents from 2010-2017 (6,141) followed by Christian County (3,539) and Floyd County (3,180). However, in terms of the percentage of population lost, Lee County shrunk the most (16.7%) followed by Martin County (11.4%) and Pike County (9.4%).
  • Nineteen counties lost as least 5% of their population from 2010-2017.

Unincorporated Vs. Incorporated Growth

County population can be divided between incorporated areas (including cities and towns) and unincorporated areas. There are currently just under 420 incorporated areas in Kentucky.

  • Two counties – Jefferson and Fayette County – have no population in unincorporated areas. For the remaining 118 counties, 41% of Kentucky’s population resides in incorporated areas and 59% resides in unincorporated areas. That ratio has remained about the same since 2010.
  • In total (including Jefferson and Fayette County), 55% of Kentucky’s population resides in incorporated areas and 45% resides in unincorporated areas.
  • The population in a majority of Kentucky counties – 95 counties – resides in unincorporated areas.
  • In 12 counties – Clay, Edmonson, Elliott, Jackson, Knott, Leslie, Martin, McCreary, Menifee, Owsley, Spencer and Wolfe County – more than 90% of the population lives in unincorporated areas.
  • Outside of Fayette and Jefferson County, the counties with the smallest percentage of the population in unincorporated areas include Kenton (8%), Campbell (18.9%) and Fulton County (29.2%).

  • From 2010-2017, the percent of the population in unincorporated areas increased in 53 counties and remained the same in four counties (Trimble, Fayette, Jefferson and McCreary County).
  • The percent of the population in unincorporated areas increased the most in Harlan County, moving from 73% in unincorporated areas in 2010 to 77% in 2017.
  • Harlan County is followed by Estill County, where the unincorporated population percentage grew from 77% to 80% and by Boyle County (from 32% to 34%).
  • The percent of the population in unincorporated areas declined the most in Taylor County, followed by Bullitt and Bourbon County.

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