This post is written by Jimmie Covington, veteran Memphis reporter with lengthy experience covering governmental, school, and demographic issues. He is a contributing writer with The Best Times, a monthly news magazine for active people 50 and older.  

By Jimmie Covington

Nashville moved ahead of Memphis in city population in 2015 rather than in 2016, according to revised census estimates released last month.

And, the most recent estimates, for July 1 last year, show Nashville at 667,560 and Memphis at 652,326. The report reflects that the number of Memphis residents is continuing downward while Nashville is growing.

Nashville had moved up from 664,762 on July 1, 2016, while Memphis dropped from 653,369.

This year’s report shows the populations of the two cities on July 1, 2015, as 656,962 for Nashville and 654,753 for Memphis. The estimates report issued last year reflected that on July 1, 2015, Nashville had 654,078 residents and Memphis had 654,454.

Revised Numbers

Each year between the 10-year federal census counts, the U.S. Census Bureau issues population estimates. And in each of these reports, the previous years’ estimates are revised based on additional information that has become available, including updated birth and death statistics.

Births and deaths are major factors in population change along with the numbers of people moving in and out of a location.

Nashville is now the nation’s 24th largest city and Memphis ranks 25th.

After the results of the 2020 Census are in, the Census Bureau will go back and revise the yearly estimates for all locations to make them consistent with the census counts in 2010 and 2020.

When that process is completed, the estimates for Memphis and Nashville for July 1, 2017, and all the other years between the two censuses will undoubtedly differ from those in this year’s report and all the other reports issued between the census counts.

Big Shelby

Basically, if as expected, the 2020 Census shows Nashville with more residents than Memphis, the exact year in which the change occurred will still be just a guess.

Nashville and Davidson County have a consolidated city-county metropolitan government. In reporting city populations, the Census Bureau refers to the Nashville city population as the Nashville-Davidson Metropolitan Government Balance. The population numbers of six incorporated municipalities that are either entirely or partly located in Davidson County are excluded from the Nashville numbers.

Shelby County, including Memphis, continues to have a larger population than Davidson County but the Davidson numbers are growing and the Shelby numbers are declining.

The July 1, 2017, estimates show Shelby with 936,961 residents and Davidson with 691,243. These estimates reflect the 652,236 residents living in Memphis and 284,726 people living in the county outside Memphis. The numbers for Nashville are 667,560 living in the city and 23,683 living in Davidson in the municipalities outside the city.

Hispanic Power

Numbers through the years show that Nashville’s greater growth in Hispanic population has been a significant factor in Nashville’s passing Memphis in city size.

An interesting figure in the Davidson County numbers reflects that more people are moving out of the county to other counties in the area and elsewhere in the United States than are moving into Davidson from elsewhere in the area and the country.

According to the estimates, Davidson between 2016 and 2017 had a net domestic migration loss of 2,397 residents.

The 2000 Census was the first to show the Nashville metro area, which has 14 counties, ahead of the nine-county Memphis metro area. The latest estimates show the Nashville area grew from 1,868,855 in 2016 to 1,903,945 in 2017 while the Memphis area grew from 1,345,193 in 2016 to 1,348,260 in 2017.