California Population

The Most Populous State in America

On the road along the stunning Pacific coast in Oregon, USA

Didier Marti/Getty Images

California has been the most populous state in the United States officially since the 1970 Census when its population (19,953,134) exceeded the population of New York State (18,237,000).

California's current population is estimated at 39,557,045 as of July 1, 2018, by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Historical Population

The population of California has grown dramatically since the first census taken in California in 1850, the year California became a state. Here are some historical California population numbers:

1850: 92,597
1860: 379,994, a 410 percent increase over 1850
1900: 1,485,053
1930: 5,677,251
1950: 10,586,223
1970: 19,953,134
1990: 29,760,021
2000: 33,871,648
2009: 38,292,687
2015: 38,715,000
2017: 39,536,653
2018: 39,557,045

The Gold Rush

After gold was found in 1848 at Sutter's Mill, in Coloma, California, treasure seekers, called forty-niners because so many came in that year, swamped the Golden State.

Not many struck it rich or held on to any wealth, but the settlements that didn't depend solely on the Gold Rush to survive eventually became thriving cities. The population influx during this time played a major role in the territory's rapid statehood. 

Population Demographics

Based on 2017 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, California's population is:

  • White non-Hispanic: 37.7%
  • Hispanic: 38.9% (can be any race, so they can be counted in multiple categories)
  • Black: 6.5%
  • Asian: 14.8%
  • 2 or more races: 3.8%
  • Native American or Alaska Native: 1.7%

In the next 20 years, the California Department of Finance projects the breakdown will be:

  • White: 35%
  • Hispanic: 43%
  • Black: 6%
  • Asian: 13%
  • Multiracial: 4%
  • Native American or Alaska Native: Less than 1%

Population Growth

California's population growth rate has slowed in recent years. Between 2014 and 2015, the California population was estimated to have grown a mere 0.9%. Between 2016 and 2036, growth is expected to slow to .76%, or 6.5 million people, according to California's Department of Finance.

Demographic percentage estimates show seniors citizens' proportion rising overall, with the group of those over 65 rising from 14% to 23% of the population by 2036.

A low birth rate (less than the replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman) and longer life spans together to create an overall aging demographic. In 2030, the baby boomers will be such a large group that their share of the state's population will be more than that of people under 18.

Though the death rate is forecast to exceed the birth rate by 2051 due to baby boomers aging, foreign immigration and migration to the state overall keep the state population growing rather than declining.

Foreign immigrants, in general, tend to be in the age ranges where they are in their prime working years and having families, contributing to the youthfulness of the state's demographics.

In fact, California was a bit more youthful than the nation's median age, at 36.2 years and 37.8 years respectively (2016 numbers.) Also, 63% of all the people in the state in 2016 were in the 18–64 age range. That percentage is expected to decline modestly by 2060.

California population projections from the California Department of Finance reflect the slow growth estimates. The agency predicted the state would hit the 40 million mark in 2018, 45 million in 2035, and 50 million in 2055.

But slower than expected growth pushed that number back, and the state still had not reached 40 million residents by May 2019, the Los Angeles Times reported. Even lower birthrates than expected were blamed, mostly because of decreased immigration from Latin America and higher immigration from Asia, where educational levels were higher and parenthood was put off for career.

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Rosenberg, Matt. "California Population." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Rosenberg, Matt. (2020, August 27). California Population. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Matt. "California Population." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).