Results from the 2020 US Census show that the population of Cape Cod and the islands has had a significant increase in the past 10 years.
Nantucket had an increase of 40.1 percent. Dukes County, which includes Martha’s Vineyard, had a population increase of 24.6 percent, and Barnstable County is up by 6.1 percent.
During the previous decade, Barnstable County showed a population decrease of 2.9 percent, so the recent results are notable in that regard.
Senior Research Program Manager Susan Strate, from the Population Estimates Program at the the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute in Hadley, said it is possible that the rise in population on the Cape could be due to the pandemic, but they are still examining the data.
“We can’t yet determine whether this intense growth in the Cape and islands region is the result of temporary migration to the region due to the pandemic, including the strong possibility of usual ‘snowbirds’ turning into what I’ll call ‘stay-birds’ in the period around April 1, 2020,” she said.
She added that even before the pandemic, they had been hearing stories about second-home owners on the Cape shifting to use those vacation homes as their primary residences.
“In future analyses, we hope to look at population changes by age groups, reported occupancy status and information on how properties are now designated in local assessors’ records to better understand these changes,” she said.
Most individual towns on the Cape saw varying degrees of population increases, with Sandwich being the sole exception and Mashpee having the largest population increase among the four Upper Cape towns.
Mashpee saw a population increase of 7.5 percent, adding nearly 1,100 residents to the town. The 2020 census indicated a total of 15,060 residents in Mashpee.
In Sandwich, the population decreased by 2 percent to 20,259 residents.
Bourne saw an increase of 3.5 percent to 20,452 people, and Falmouth increased 3.1 percent to 32,517 people.
Outer Cape towns saw the most impressive increases, though they remain the least populated by numbers.
Wellfleet had the highest percentage increase of all Cape Cod towns, with 29.7 percent, representing an added 816 residents over 2010. The total population of the town is 3,566 as indicated by the 2020 data.
Similarly, Provincetown increased by 22.5 percent—a total of 451 people—for a total resident count of 2,454.
The most populous town on the Cape continues to be Barnstable, with 48,916 residents, an increase of 8.2 percent over 2010.
Data also indicates that the county has become more diverse, though the population remains largely white and non-Hispanic.
In 2010, 91.4 percent of Cape Codders were white, while 2020 data shows that number has decreased to 85 percent.
Residents identifying as Black or African-American increased from 1.8 percent to 2.8 percent, Asians increased from 1 percent to 1.4 percent, Hispanics or Latinos from 2.2 percent to 3.5 percent, Other from 1.1 percent to 1.5 percent, and two or more races from 2 percent to 5.4 percent.
American Indian remained steady at 0.5 percent, and Hawaiian Natives and Pacific Islanders did not register as any percentage in the data.
The change in racial diversity was less pronounced along the Upper Cape, with 87.6 percent of Upper Cape residents identifying as white.
However, the Upper Cape averaged higher than the county as a whole for Asian (1.6 percent), Hispanic (2.5 percent) and American Indian (0.8 percent) populations.
Mashpee has the highest population of Native American residents on the Cape at 2.7 percent of its population.
Barnstable has the most diverse population in the county with a white population of 76.2 percent. Orleans is the least diverse with a white population of 92.1 percent.
Another key data point in the census is the occupancy rate of housing in the community. Across the Cape, about 58 percent of housing units are occupied on a full-time basis—up from 53 percent in 2010.
The 2020 census data reports that the Cape has 164,885 housing units. This means that 69,252 housing units—homes, cottages, condominiums and apartments—are unoccupied for the majority of the year.
Sandwich has the largest percentage of housing that is occupied for the majority of the year with 82 percent of housing being occupied by year-round residents. Truro has the highest percentage of unoccupied housing with 41.6 percent of its units occupied by full-time residents.
The Upper Cape as a region has 72 percent of housing units occupied by year-round residents, which is up 2 percent from 2010.