Essex County is home to over 807,000 residents, with small but fast-growing minority groups, a high proportion of foreign-born residents in some local areas, and an overall aging population. Demographic trends are important to understand because they impact the economy, health care needs and outcomes, what services government and nonprofits provide, and many other local and national concerns. 

Essex County is composed of 34 cities and towns, including the cities of Lynn, Lawrence, Amesbury, Beverly, Gloucester, Haverhill, Methuen, Newburyport, Peabody and Salem. Lynn, Lawrence, Haverhill, Methuen, Peabody and Salem are considered Gateway Cities. Gateway Cities are targeted for increased state investment and have below average incomes and adult education levels and populations between 35,000 and 250,000. Though Lynn, with 100,800 people, and Lawrence, with 88,500, are the largest localities in Essex County, they are not the fastest growing. Lynn’s population has grown 13% since 2000 and Lawrence’s 23%, outpaced by growth in smaller towns such as Methuen, Salisbury and Georgetown.

Lynn and Lawrence are two centers of diversity and immigration, with foreign-born residents making up 35% of Lynn’s population and 41% of Lawrence’s. Lawrence is also home to over 72,200 of the county’s 178,000 Hispanic residents. In 2017-21, 80% of Lawrence residents speak a language other than English at home. Immigration has historically been a key driver of population growth throughout the U.S. and is projected to be increasingly important in the next several decades.

The county’s population overall has grown 12% since 2000, similar to the state but below the national rate of growth (18%). Growth was fastest among Hispanic residents (123%), African Americans (90%) and Asians (63%), though the county as a whole remained majority white (75%).

Overall, 18% of the county’s population was foreign-born and 28% spoke a foreign language at home – comparable with state and national rates and a bit below rates in some otherwise similar counties.

Among both sexes, older age brackets have grown more than younger ones since 2000, in line with America’s overall “graying” trend. Among men, the greatest increases were in the age brackets of 60-84 (62%) and 85 or older (73%), along with a 43% and 31% increase in the population of women in each of these age brackets. There were much smaller increases in the age brackets of 20-39 for men (5%). Both sexes had declines of 3% in the under 20 age bracket. 

The age distribution of a population has major implications for what types of services are needed (schools, health care, etc.), and how they are delivered and paid for. It also matters where people live – in Essex County, about 38% of people 65 or older in the county live alone, which can make it difficult to access services or care. In addition, 12% of Essex County’s population has some type of disability (both rates are similar to state and national rates). 

Most households in Essex County are made up of singles living alone (27%) or married couples without children (28%), followed by married couples with children (20%), similar to state and national proportions. Although singles living with children made up just 11% of all households in Essex County, they accounted for 35% of all families with children under 18. That’s an increase from 28% in 2000, and rates were especially high among some groups (Hispanics – 63%, African Americans – 57%, whites – 37%, Asians – 27%). Female-headed single families made up 77% of the total. Children raised by single parents tend to be poorer and can be at risk for lower educational and life outcomes.