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Virginia Home to Some of the Youngest Communities in the Nation

Mark Goebel / Creative Commons

Virginia may be one of the oldest states. And its history may stretch back into the past more than other states. But new numbers from the federal government are revealing a surprising twist about Virginia. 


It may be the Old Dominion, but Virginia has some of the youngest jurisdictions in the country. According to new numbers from the Census Bureau, Lexington has the youngest population in America with a median age of 22.4. Lexington City Manager Noah Simon says that’s probably because the city is home to the Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee University.

"Our biggest challenges are not so much the age of the population. But we have other significant challenges such as that 64 percent of the properties in the city of Lexington are tax exempt."

Those properties would be the academic institutions, which don’t pay property taxes. 

“So you could say that there’s an indirect relationship between our young population and some of our revenue type needs."

Lexington isn’t the only Virginia city making the list. Radford has the fourth youngest population in America with a median age of 23.8. Radford Vice Mayor Keith Marshall says part of the explanation for that is Radford University, but he says recent events have also contributed. 

“We had a Radford Foundry, it’s been known by several names but it was a longtime foundry in the city of Radford for a hundred years maybe, and it closed down in recent years and we lost a lot of those good middle class jobs, blue collar jobs."

And those aren’t the only jobs that have recently left Radford. 

“We also saw our hospital, Radford Hospital, move out of town into Montgomery County and we lost some of those jobs also, so there’s kind of been kind of a drain on job growth in the city of Radford."

Professor John Accordino at Virginia Commonwealth University says local governments in college towns have a sort of double whammy: Lots of young people without jobs and valuable land that can’t be taxed. But there are also benefits. 

“It depends very much on how that institution chooses to engage with the community as to whether or not it’s a net plus or a negative."

That engagement could come in ways that are difficult to quantify. 

“Do they provide social studies? Do they care for the poor? Do they provide planning studies?"

Luke Juday at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service says Virginia isn’t just for lovers. It’s also for young people seeking education and jobs. 

“Virginia is a slightly younger state than most other states. We tend to have a heavy influx of people to colleges and to military bases and also just because we are an economically successful state."

But the commonwealth isn’t just young people. Go outside the college towns and you’ll find areas where the median age is above the national average. 

"Virginia has several quite old counties. Highland and Bath are definitely big retirement areas. The whole are from Orange County, Rappahannock down to the Middle Peninsula to the Northern Neck.” 

Frank Shafroth at George Mason University says those older people are about to create a major demographic shift. Because people are living longer than they ever have, he says, areas with young population like Lexington and Radford may be the tip of the iceberg. 

“Not only do you have a lot of young people in this community. But that could also reflect that many of the county’s oldest residents now reside but not in a home but rather in a cemetery."

And that’s a trend he says is only likely to grow in the coming years. 

“We have one of the largest generations of old people in American history who have lived longer than previous generations. So that means we’re also probably at some sort of a vortex where people will be dying."

Other places with exceptionally young populations include Madison County, Iowa, Kusilvak, Arkansas and Chattahoochee County, Georgia.

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