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Why Is St. Louis Growing More Slowly Than Expected?


Thursday, June 20, 2019

The St. Louis metropolitan statistical area’s population grew 4.7% from 2000 to 2018, significantly lagging the national growth rate of 19.9% over the same period, according to a recent Economic Synopses essay. Why the slow population growth for St. Louis?

Regional Population Growth

In the essay, Regional Economist Charles Gascon noted that not only did St. Louis’ population growth lag the national average, it also lagged the growth rates of similar-sized nearby MSAs like Kansas City (17.9%) and Nashville (39.2%).

Of the 15 counties that make up the St. Louis MSA, five saw declines (led by St. Louis City with a decline of 44,300 people), and 10 saw increases (led by St. Charles County with a gain of 113,000 people). “These significant shifts of population from St. Louis City toward outlying suburbs continue previous trends,” Gascon wrote.

He surmised that the lagging population growth could be due to economic reasons or demographics:

  • Economic reasons: regional characteristics that impact business productivity or amenities
  • Demographics: differences in net birth rates

Falling Short of Projected Growth

Gascon compared actual county population growth for the St. Louis MSA to projected growth, using a model developed by economists Peter Linneman and Albert Saiz for projected growth.Linneman, Peter; and Saiz, Albert. “Forecasting 2020 U.S. County and MSA Populations.” Working Paper #549, University of Pennsylvania Wharton, April 2006. Gascon noted that the model projected growth of 11% for the MSA for the period 2000-18. He found that the MSA’s population in 2018 was 174,900 less than projected.

“This shortfall is likely due to relatively weaker economic performance than forecasted, leading to outward migration from the region,” he noted.

He concluded that the shortfall is driven by faster-than-expected migration out of the region rather than unexpectedly slower net birth rates. “One might interpret this shortfall as indicating (i) the region has experienced declines in productivity or quality of life relative to other MSAs and, as a result, (ii) households believed they could achieve a higher quality of life by moving to a new location,” Gascon wrote.

Notes and References

1 Linneman, Peter; and Saiz, Albert. “Forecasting 2020 U.S. County and MSA Populations.” Working Paper #549, University of Pennsylvania Wharton, April 2006.

Additional Resources

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