Populations in the 5 Fastest-Shrinking Massachusetts Counties Are Plummeting

Written by Kyle Glatz
Published: September 25, 2023
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The 2020 U.S. Census revealed the population in Massachusetts is falling. In 2020, the state had 7,029,949 residents. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population contracted in 2022, leaving 6,981,974 residents. Some counties are seeing more people leave than others, though. Discover the fastest-shrinking counties in Massachusetts and find out how many people have left the area and why they’re leaving.

The primary resource for this article is the county population predictions issued by the U.S. Census Bureau for July 2022.

5. Berkshire County

Aerial of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, United States

Home to roughly 45,000 people, Pittsfield is the largest city in Berkshire County.

©hstiver/iStock via Getty Images

Population LossPercent Loss

Berkshire County is the westernmost county in Massachusetts, stretching from the northern to the southern borders of the state. This region shares a border with New York to the west. Pittsfield is the largest city in the county, and the city is home to roughly 45,000 people. However, this area is starting to lose residents, albeit at a slow pace.

The population in Berkshire County in 2020 was 129,036 people. However, the population in 2022 dropped to 127,859 people. This is a decrease in the population of 1,177 people. When converted to a percentage of the population, the drop was just 0.91%.

Even though it is one of the Massachusetts counties with a rapidly shrinking population, not all that many people left this area. 

4. Essex County

Kings Beach aerial view in town of Swampscott and city of Lynn near Boston, Massachusetts MA, USA.

The Atlantic Ocean is on the eastern border of Essex County.

©Wangkun Jia/Shutterstock.com

Population LossPercent Loss

Essex County is in the northeastern part of the state. This shares a border with New Hampshire to the north. The Atlantic Ocean is on the eastern border of the county. This region has the third highest number of people living within its borders, and its largest city is Lynn. The southern part of this county is part of the greater Boston metropolitan area.  

The 2020 U.S. Census found that Essex County was home to 809,818 people. The population in 2022 was 806,765, a fair decline in population from 2020. The total number of residents lost in this case was 3,053 people, equal to 0.38% of the populace.

3. Hampden County

Springfield, Massachusetts, USA downtown skyline on the river at dusk.

The Connecticut River runs through the middle of Hampden County as well as through Springfield, the largest city in the area.

©Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

Population LossPercent Loss

Hampden County is situated along the southern part of Massachusetts. The county shares a border with Connecticut to the south. The Connecticut River runs through the middle of this county as well as through the largest city in the area, Springfield. This city has a population of about 155,000 people as of the most recent census.

Hampden County’s population in 2020 was 465,834. This area experienced a significant loss of population to 461,041 individuals over the following two years. The region lost a total of 4,793 people over two years. That’s 1.02% of the region’s total population.

Considering the size of the county’s population, this loss of people is not that significant. Still, almost 5,000 people moved from the area, making it one of the Massachusetts counties that people are leaving behind.

2. Middlesex County

The Bridge of Sighs at Saint John's College, Cambridge.

Cambridge is the largest city in Middlesex County.


Population LossPercent Loss

Middlesex County covers much of the northeastern part of the state, and it is the most populous county in the entire state. Middlesex County contains many of the largest suburbs of Boston. The largest city in this region is Cambridge, a city of almost 120,000 people.

Middlesex County is the most populous region in the Bay State. In 2020, the population in this county was 1,632,002 people. Yet, this area saw a massive decline in population over the following two years. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, this county dropped to a population of 1,617,105 residents. 

A total of 14,897 people left this area, a huge population loss for such a short interval. This drop in population is equal to 0.91% of the total population.

1. Suffolk County

Boston Skyline

Boston is the largest city in Massachusetts but experienced a population decline of 3.7% between 2020-2022.

©bwzenith/iStock via Getty Images

Population LossPercent Loss

Despite being one of the smallest counties in the state by area, Suffolk County has a large population. That should not come as a surprise since this region contains the cities of Boston, Chelsea, Winthrop, and Revere.

The 2020 Census showed that Suffolk County had 797,941 people living within its borders. Yet, that number dropped by a huge amount, all the way to 766,381. This sudden downturn in population makes this region the leader of the Massachusetts counties with plummeting populations.

A total of 31,560 people left Suffolk County in recent years. This drop in population means that almost 4% of the residents in this part of the state have left in just two years. That is a tremendous population loss! Boston accounts for most of the losses in population in this area, with 3.7% of its population departing between 2020 and 2022.  

The population throughout Massachusetts is falling. Why is that happening, though? Focusing on the areas where the greatest number of people left, it’s clear that people are leaving the larger cities and their suburbs. In those cases, the cost of living is driving people away. High home prices and rental costs are making it unfeasible for some people to live in the region. So, they’re departing from the most populous counties in exchange for more affordable ones.

Also, many people were untethered from their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, either by remote work or job loss. People spread away from cities because they did not need to live in them any longer in either of those cases. These factors and possibly others are driving the movement out of the fastest-shrinking Massachusetts counties.

Summary of the Fastest-Shrinking Massachusetts Counties

RankCountyPopulation Loss
1.Suffolk County-31,560
2.Middlesex County-14,897
3.Hampden County-4,793
4.Essex County-3,053
5.Berkshire County-1,177

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Mihai_Andritoiu/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Kyle Glatz is a writer at A-Z-Animals where his primary focus is on geography and mammals. Kyle has been writing for researching and writing about animals and numerous other topics for 10 years, and he holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and Education from Rowan University. A resident of New Jersey, Kyle enjoys reading, writing, and playing video games.

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