Demographics of Washington, D.C.

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Race and ethnicity (2010)
Map of race and ethnicity in Washington, D.C.
African American50.7%

The demographics of Washington, D.C., also known as the District of Columbia, reflect an ethnically diverse, cosmopolitan, mid-size capital city. In 2010 the District had a population of 601,723 people. Washington, D.C., is unique among major U.S. cities in that its founding was not organic, but rather established as a result of a political compromise. The District had relatively few residents during much of its early history up until the Civil War. The presence of the U.S. federal government in Washington has been instrumental in the city's later growth and development. Its role as the capital leads people to forget that Washington has a native resident population.[1]

In 2011 Washington’s black population slipped below 50 percent for the first time in over 50 years.[2] The city was a majority-black city from the late 20th century through 2011. Washington has had a significant African-American population since the city's creation; several D.C. neighborhoods are well-noted for their contributions to black history and culture. Like numerous other border and northern cities in the first half of the 20th century, Washington received many black migrants from the South in the Great Migration, who moved North for better education and job opportunities, as well as to escape legal segregation and lynchings. Government growth related to World War II provided economic opportunities for African Americans, too.

In the postwar era, the percentage of African Americans in the city steadily increased as its total population declined as a result of suburbanization supported by federal highway construction, and white flight. The black population included a strong middle and upper class.

Since the 2000 U.S. Census, the city has reversed some population losses. The District has experienced an increase in the proportion of white, Asian, and Hispanic residents, and a decline in the city's black population. Some of the latter have moved to the suburbs; others have moved to new opportunities in the South in a New Great Migration.

Historical population[edit]

Historical Populations[b]
Historical Population of Each D.C. Jurisdiction[4][5]

Washington, D.C., was established to be the new United States capital and is largely a planned city. However, there were already a number of settlements within the federal territory when it was created in 1790. Most important of these settlements were the cities of Georgetown, founded in 1751, and Alexandria, Virginia (then included in the District), founded in 1749. Together these two cities had most of the District's early residents. The populations of each place were counted separately from that of the City of Washington until Alexandria was returned to Virginia in 1846, and until the District of Columbia was formed into a single municipality in 1871. In 1790, Alexandria had a population of 2,748.[6] By 1800, the City of Washington had a population of 3,210, Georgetown had 2,993, and Alexandria had 4,971.[5]

LeDroit Park, a neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The District's population remained small in comparison to other major U.S. cities. In 1860, directly prior to the Civil War, the District had about 75,000 residents,[7] far smaller than such major historical port cities as New York at 800,000 or Philadelphia at more than 500,000.[8] It is notable that Washington had a large African-American population even prior to the Civil War, and most were free people of color, not slaves. Due to slaveholders' manumission of slaves in the Upper South after the American Revolutionary War, the free black population in those states climbed markedly from an estimated 1% before the war to 10% by 1810.[9] Since many states did not permit free blacks to stay after gaining freedom, they often relocated to the District; in 1860, approximately 80% of the city's African-American residents were free blacks.[10]

Following the Civil War, the District's population jumped 75% to more than 130,000.[7] Washington's population continued to grow throughout the late nineteenth century as Irish-American, German-American and Jewish-American immigrant communities formed in the areas surrounding downtown. By 1900, the city's growth had spread to the more residential sections beyond the old Florida Avenue boundary line following the development of the city's streetcar lines along major arteries such as Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, Connecticut Avenue, Wisconsin Avenue, Georgia Avenue, 14th Street and 16th Street. By 1930, development within the District's boundaries was largely complete, with the exception of a few outlying areas in far Northeast and Southeast and the city's population totalled just under 500,000. In response to the Great Depression in the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal legislation expanded the bureaucracy in Washington. World War II further increased government activity and defense contracting, adding to the number of federal employees in the capital. People came from across the country to work in wartime Washington.[11] By 1950, the District's population reached a peak of 802,178 residents.[12]

Shortly thereafter, in a pattern repeated across the country, the city began losing residents attracted to newer housing in the suburbs, with commutes made easier by an expanded highway network outside the city. Following social unrest and riots in the 1960s, plus increasing crime, by 1980 Washington had lost one-quarter of its population.[7] After the achievements of civil rights, more of the city's middle-class black population also moved to the suburbs. The city's population continued to decline until the late 1990s. Gentrification efforts started to transform the demographics of distressed neighborhoods.[13] Recently, a trend of growth since the 2000 U.S. Census provided the first rise in the District's population in 50 years.[14]



In 2013 the U.S. Census Bureau data estimated the District's population at 646,449 residents,[15] continuing a trend of population growth in the city since the 2000 Census, which recorded 572,059 residents.[16] During the workweek, the number of commuters from the suburbs into the city swells the District's population by an estimated 71.8%, to a daytime population of over one million people.[17] The Washington Metropolitan Area, which includes the surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia, is the eighth-largest in the United States, with more than five million residents. When combined with Baltimore and its suburbs, the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area has a population exceeding eight million residents, the fourth-largest in the country.[18]

There were 268,670 households within the District in 2011. Approximately 45% of those were householders living alone. There were also 114,045 family households; 17% of homes had children under the age of 18. Of those families with children, 51% were those headed by a female householder only. The average household size was 2.2 and the average family size was 3.2.[19]

Ethnic composition[edit]

Ethnic Makeup of Washington, D.C.[7]
YearWhite (non-Hispanic)BlackAsianNative
(any race)

In 2010 the population distribution was 50.7% black, 38.5% white, 9.1% Hispanic (of any race), 4.4% other (including Native Americans, Alaskans, Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders), 3.5% Asian, and 1.6% mixed.[22] Long the city's largest ethnic group, many African Americans have moved out of the city to the suburbs. The number of European Americans in the city has increased, and some have occupied gentrified areas in traditionally black neighborhoods.[13] There has been a 7.3% decrease in the African-American population and a 17.8% increase in the Caucasian population since 2000.[16] In addition, some African Americans are migrating to other parts of the South in a New Great Migration, because of family ties, increased opportunities and lower cost of living.[23]

In 2007, an estimated 74,000 foreign immigrants lived in Washington, D.C.[22] Major sources of immigration have included El Salvador, Vietnam, and Ethiopia, and a concentration of Salvadorans have settled in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood.[24]

The "Friendship Arch" is at the center of Chinatown.

The largest Hispanic group is Salvadoran, accounting for an estimated 18,505 of Washington's 45,901 Hispanics.[25] D.C. has a steadily declining African-American population, due to many middle-class and professional African Americans moving to the suburbs, mostly in Maryland (for example, an African-American majority has developed in Prince George's County) and Northern Virginia, aggravated by the rising cost of living in the area, in addition to the clear acceleration of gentrification.[26]

Social characteristics[edit]

The 2000 census revealed that an estimated 33,000 adults in the District of Columbia identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, about 8.1% of the city's adult population.[27] In December 2009, a same-sex marriage bill was passed by the Council of the District of Columbia and was subsequently signed by the mayor.[28] The District began issuing same sex marriage licenses in March 2010.[29]

A Robert Emery 2007 report found that about one-third of Washington residents are functionally illiterate, compared to a national rate of about one in five. This is attributed in part to immigrants who are not proficient in English.[30] A 2005 study shows that 85.16% of Washington, D.C. residents age five and older speak only English at home and 8.78% speak Spanish. French is the third-most-spoken language at 1.35%.[31]

In contrast to the high rate of functional illiteracy, nearly 46% of D.C. residents 25 and older have at least a four-year college degree, and 25% have a graduate or professional degree.[19] In 2006, Washington residents had a median family income of $58,526. This has not changed much during the past five years.[22]

According to data from 2000, over 50% of District residents identified as Christian; of these 28% of residents are Catholic, 9.1% are American Baptist, 6.8% are Southern Baptist, 1.3% are Eastern or Oriental Orthodox, and 13% are members of other Christian denominations. Residents who practice Islam make up 10.6% of the population; followers of Judaism compose 4.5%; and 26.8% of residents adhere to other faiths or do not practice a religion.[32] The city hosts the second largest Muslim population in the country who make up 2.1 percent of the city and there are 134 halal restaurants.[33]

See also[edit]


^[a] Alexandria was returned to the state of Virginia in 1846. See: District of Columbia retrocession
^[b] Data provided by "District of Columbia - Race and Hispanic Origin: 1800 to 1990" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. 2002-09-13. Retrieved 2008-07-29.  Until 1890, the U.S. Census Bureau counted the City of Washington, Georgetown, and unincorporated Washington County as three separate areas. The data provided in this article from before 1890 is calculated as if the District of Columbia were a single municipality as it is today. To view the population data for each specific area prior to 1890 see: Gibson, Campbell (June 1998). "Population of the 100 Largest Cities and Other Urban Places in the United States: 1790 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-07-29. 


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  3. ^ "Resident Population Data". United States Census Bureau. 2010-12-21. Retrieved 2010-12-21. 
  4. ^ The District of Columbia was consolidated under a single government in 1871.
    For Data 1800-1870, prior to D.C. consolidation:
    "1870 Census Information". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 

    Data 1880-1890, after D.C. consolidation: "1890 Census Information". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 
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