Having grown at an average rate of over one percent per year over the past decade, peaking at 1.7 percent in 2012, the estimated population of San Francisco proper inched up 0.3 percent in 2018, from a downwardly revised 880,980 at the start of last year to 883,869 as of January 1, 2019, according to the latest data from California’s Department of Finance.

That’s an estimated net population growth of 2,889 persons over the past year. And while that’s versus 2,579 net-new units of housing having been delivered in the city over the same period of time, keep in mind that the average unit in San Francisco houses 2.2 people.

Across the greater Bay Area, the estimated population grew by 31,810 (0.41 percent) in 2018 to 7,783,460, with Alameda County leading the way in the absolute (up 12,417 to 1,669,301) followed by Contra Costa County (up 8,000 to 1,155,879), with the populations in Sonoma and Napa having slipped post-wildfires and almost no change in Marin, as we’ve tabled below:


January 1, 2018 January 1, 2019 Growth (YoY) Rate
Alameda 1,656,884 1,669,301 12,417 0.75%
Contra Costa 1,147,879 1,155,879 8,000 0.70%
Marin 262,803 262,879 76 0.03%
Napa 140,966 140,779 -187 -0.13%
San Francisco 880,980 883,869 2,889 0.33%
San Mateo 772,372 774,485 2,113 0.27%
Santa Clara 1,947,798 1,954,286 6,488 0.33%
Solano 439,102 441,307 2,205 0.50%
Sonoma 502,866 500,675 -2,191 -0.44%
Total 7,751,650 7,783,460 31,810 0.41%


The estimated population growth rate for California was 0.47 percent last year, the slowest in the State’s history, “driven by a significant decline in births, down by more than 18,000 over the previous year, as well and data reflecting lower student enrollment.” At the same time, “deaths continued an upward trend seen since 2010 as California’s “Baby Boomers” continue to age.”

And of the ten largest cities in California, Sacramento recorded the largest percentage gain (1.49 percent) in population last year, increasing by 7,400 to 508,172.

30 thoughts on “Population Growth of San Francisco Really Slows Its Roll”
  1. San Francisco’s population has possibly hit its historic peak. Give or take several thousand. More broadly the Bay Area is growing at a slower pace than the national average which is just under 1%. Compared to other Western metros the numbers are more telling with places like Seattle, Portland and Phoenix growing significantly faster than the overall growth in US population.

    Many factors are at play. There is a large domestic out-migration from the Bay Area, the coast of living and housing costs in particular are exorbitant causing companies not to relocate or significantly expand here. And, just as San Francisco is built out, the Bay Area is out of room in which to add large amounts of new housing. In-fill is still an option but is strenuously opposed by many Bay Area cities and towns so that option is restricted too. Phoenix, Las Vegas, Seattle (King County) on the other hand have plenty of room for expansion.

    Long term the political and economic influence of the Bay Area will decline as it drops out, eventually, of the top ten largest metro areas. And as the tech industry continues to become less concentrated in the Silicon Valley. The bright side is that, over time, the Bay Area should become less unaffordable, perhaps less crowded (should the overall region experience a population contraction) and see an improved quality of life.

    1. The out-migration is real. Many of the big tech companies located here have offices in Seattle, and other nice cities. Employees can easily move between these offices. People making good money here are leaving because of quality of life issues, not simply over cost of living.

      1. It’s not only a Bay Area issue, it is a California trend. I read somewhere that the majority of newcomers to Dallas/Fort Worth are Californians. It is possible that Techies move to Portland and Seattle, but more Californians are moving to Vegas, Phoenix and the State of Texas. The out-migration is more than offsetting the international inflow to the state.

        I like it here, but I am fine with little or no population growth.

      2. This would make sense, except, among Americans with high incomes and high levels of education the Bay Area continues to enjoy net domestic in-migration. It’s the other employers, not the high tech ones, whose employees are leaving.

        1. That is the problem – only very high income people can to move here. That is a relatively small group and not enough to sustain continued population growth. Many in the tech industry can’t afford to live here. Hence HP is moving jobs to Boise, Ft. Collins and Texas from Palo Alto. UCSF is having trouble attracting talent – these are skilled physicians and researches. There are nurses at UCSF MB who commute from Sacramento and I know of one who actually flies in from Vegas. These are experienced nurses making an excellent salary. They are part of that set of professional workers making well north of 100K but unable to purchase a home. Hence anemic population growth in the BA and perhaps a coming population contraction.

          1. Note that your evidence actually prove the exact opposite of what your thesis.

            Second tier companies have trouble attracting people because prices are high. Prices are high because top companies can pay higher salaries. HP has been sick for decades and probably can’t afford to be here much longer. Healthier companies, like Apple, have eaten its lunch.

        2. Is there a source to this? Or is it an observation because the Bay Area is expensive and therefore it continue to enjoy domestic in-migration among Americans with high incomes and high levels of education.

      3. How is the quality of life in Seattle better than San Francisco these days?

        It used to be much more affordable with much less traffic, and way worse weather.

        Now? I don’t see it.

        1. Ah, but our frequent commentator burbles about the SUPERIOR architecture and urban design. He somehow doesn’t mention the vast homeless camps along almost every interstate in central Seattle. Or the car break-ins. And the traffic is horrific.

      1. Yes. The last significant areas for office development are committed to. I meant large new office proposals which have come to a standstill. Central SOMA is the last hope for office developers in SF but it will likely be held up with legal challenges for years.

        1. Committed to and built out are very different. It is silly to say it’s built out until at least the projects I noted (plus the Flower Mart, Mission Rock, Candlestick and Hunters point) are all being actually built. Otherwise with prop. M at 950 a year and the committed projects taking many millions there isn’t much reason think about where more could go. The build out is going to go on for decades as it is.

    2. There are a massive number of conditions that need to be met for what you’re predicting to come to pass. It’s extremely unlikely, though possible, that they are all met. The Bay Area’s economy is significantly more diversified than people like to pretend. And with the growth and melding of megaregions (in our case with Sacramento), it’s exceedingly unlikely that the local/regional economy alone will be upended or driven to extinction the way it was in places like Detroit. It’s substantially more likely that the next downturn, population decrease, and/or housing cost drop will result from broader national and global conditions rather than just local ones.

    3. Dave (Seattle dude) is wrong. In 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, the net migration between California and WA state was 2198 people. Yes, about 2200 people. There is no mass migration of people from Calif to Washington state, and hence also not to Seattle.

      Source: US Census ACS Survey 2011-2016

    4. Maybe it will be like New York. As the finance world is less concentrated in New York, house prices in Manhattan have dropped.

    5. In line with some of the additional comments, I would argue that cost of living is by far the biggest impact much more so then places to build housing. As noted below, the cost of living is preventing anyone other then higher earners to avoid to move here. In addition, those high housing costs is a great incentive for a lot of baby boomers to cash out and go to Boise or Phoenix.

      It is not the space to build more housing in my opinion that is limiting population growth but the cost and time it takes to build housing in the bay area, and its only getting worse without wholesale changes in state and local laws. From Hunters point/Candlestick, to SOMA, to options around BART/Caltrain stations to downtown San Jose, to Alameda Naval yard to former Concord naval weapons station to even the current A’s site there is still a huge opportunity to put in a lot more housing.

  2. The Bay Area has two metro areas, San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, neither one in the top ten metro areas.

      1. Yeah, the CSA is the more useful metric for talking about the Bay Area. Normally MSA and CSA almost perfectly overlap, but the Bay Area is maybe the most notable area in the US where this isn’t the case.

      1. Fremont is part of the SF-Oakland-Hayward MSA. It used to be called the SF-Oakland-Fremont MSA until 2013.

  3. “downwardly revised 880,980 at the start of last year…”

    IOW the whole of this alleged – and all the implications that “alleged” carries with it seem really warranted here – “population growth” is actually less than the downward revision. I might question the value of these estimates, but…oh look: I already did that last year, no need to repeat myself.

  4. The out-migration is real. Significant recent uptick.

    Domestic Migration YoY
    2018 -4,522
    2017 -2,689
    2016 -1,813
    2015 1,720
    2014 521
    2013 1,172
    2012 3,302
    2011 416

    1. Given the downward revision of the numbers for the start of 2018 and the trend, look for a downward revision of the January 2019 numbers. Possibly putting 2018 into negative growth. In any case it seems likely 2019 will see a drop in SF’s population which trend could go on for a number of years to come.

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