1950 Census: Low birthrate of Great Depression skews population figures; first impacts of post-World War II "baby-boom" felt; men still outnumber women in Washington state, but the gap is closing.

  • By John Caldbick
  • Posted 5/11/2010
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9424

The total population of Washington state in 1950 is 2,378,963, an increase of 642,772 (37.02 percent) from the 1940 count of 1,736,191. Population growth east of the Cascade Mountains is 179,624 (27.9 percent of total state population growth), and west of the Cascade Mountains it is 463,148 (72.1 percent of total state population growth). The average population density in Washington in 1950 is 35.73 persons per square mile. Of historical interest, those born between 1931 and 1935 in the depths of the Great Depression make up only 6.6 percent of the state's total population, whereas those born between 1945 and 1950, the first years of the post-war "baby boom," account for 11.1 percent of the state's total population.

There may be minor discrepancies in some numerical counts as data has been refined subsequent to the census, but these are not statistically significant.

Population and Growth

Population growth is composed of two major components -- natural increase and net migration.  The natural increase in population (births less deaths) is the more stable component of population growth. Migration into and out of Washington is more volatile, and is to a great degree dependent upon the economic conditions within the state relative to the rest of the nation.

The natural increase and net migration (rounded to the nearest hundredth) that combined to account for Washington state's population growth between 1940 and 1950 were:

  • Number of births: 452,500
  • Number of deaths: 211,600
  • Net migration (incoming minus outgoing): 401,900

Total Increase 642,800

In 1950, the largest of the 39 counties in Washington state by population were:

  • King: 732,992
  • Pierce:  275,876
  • Spokane: 221,561
  • Yakima: 135,723
  • Snohomish: 111,580
  • Clark: 85,307
  • Kitsap: 75,724
  • Whatcom: 66,733
  • Grays Harbor: 53,644
  • Cowlitz: 53,369

In terms of population growth measured by percentage increase in population, the five fastest-growing counties from 1940 to 1950 were:

  • Benton: 329 percent
  • Franklin: 115 percent
  • Island:  81 percent
  • Clark: 71 percent
  • Kitsap: 70 percent

Measured by numerical population growth, the fastest-growing counties from 1940 to 1950 and the number of new residents in each were:

  • King  228,012
  • Pierce: 93,795
  • Spokane: 56,909
  • Benton: 39,667
  • Yakima: 36,794

In 1950, the 10 largest cities in Washington by population were:

  • Seattle:  467,591
  • Spokane:  161,721
  • Tacoma: 143,673
  • Vancouver:  41,664
  • Yakima:  38,486
  • Bellingham:  34,112
  • Everett:  33,849
  • Bremerton: 27,768
  • Walla Walla:  24,102
  • Longview: 20,339

Population Characteristics:  Urban/Rural

For the 1950 census, the Census Bureau defined "urban population" as comprising all persons living in incorporated cities and towns of over 2,500 population; incorporated and unincorporated areas in the densely settled urban fringe around cities of 50,000 or more; and all unincorporated places outside of urban fringes having 2,500 or more persons.

The 1950 census revealed that 1,503,166 persons lived in urbanized areas (63.2 percent of Washington's total population and a 38.2 percent increase over the 1940 figure).  Rural population totaled 875,797 (36.8 percent Washington's total population and a 35.7  percent increase over 1940 figure).

Population Characteristics:  Sex


In the 1950 census, men outnumbered women in Washington 1,223,851 (51.4 percent) to 1,155,112 (48.6 percent) and were leading in all age groups except persons over age 75:

  • Age 0-19:  404,424  males, 380,088  females  (+24,336 males)
  • Age 20-44: 459,783 males, 439,398 females (+20,385 males)
  • Age 45-74: 327,293 males, 302,788 females (+24,505 males) 
  • Over 75:  32,351 males, 32,848 females (+497 females)

Population Characteristics: Race

The 1950 census used just two very broad categories for determining the numerical populations and percentages for racial groups: "white" and "nonwhite."  

The category "nonwhite" included "Negroes, Indians, Japanese, Chinese, and other nonwhite races." Included under "Negro" were persons of mixed white/Negro parentage and persons of mixed Indian/Negro parentage, "unless the Indian blood clearly predominates or the person is accepted in the community as an Indian."

Persons of mixed parentage, in general, were classified according to the heritage of the nonwhite parent or, in the case of two nonwhite parents, by the heritage of the father.

  • 1950 white population: 2,316,496 (97.4 percent)
  • 1950 nonwhite population: 62,467 (2.6 percent)

Population Characteristics: Age

The age statistics for Washington's 1950 population show both the early effects of the post-World War II "baby boom" and the low birth rate during the early years of the Great Depression. The numbers and percentages for Washington state's population in various age groups in 1950 were:

  • Under 5:  263,326 (11.1 percent – reflects first impact of post-war baby boom)
  • 5-14:  363,481 (15.3 percent)
  • 15-19: 157,695 (6.6 percent – reflects low birthrate during Great Depression)
  • 20-29: 370,706 (15.6 percent)
  • 30-39: 369,385 (15.5 percent)
  • 40-49: 297,804  (12.5 percent)
  • 50-59: 241,245 (10.1 percent)
  • 60-69: 190,467 (8 percent)
  • Over 70: 124,854 (5.3 percent)

The median age for both males and females in the 1950 census was 30.9, meaning that one-half of all residents were younger than that and one-half were older. This was down somewhat from the 1940 census medians of  32.9 years for men and 31.5 years for women.

For every 100 females over age 18 in Washington in 1950 there were 106 males.

Population Characteristics: Households

The Census Bureau in 1950 defined "household"  to include all of the people who occupy a dwelling unit, whether related or not.

"Family" was defined as a group of two or more persons living together who are related by blood, marriage, or adoption.

  • Total households in state, 1950: 736,988
  • Average household size: 3.04 persons
  • Family households: 625,185 (85 percent of all households)
  • Total persons living in households: 2,243,893 (94.3 percent of total population)
  • Number of persons living alone or with unrelated persons (non-family households): 253,220

Population Characteristics: Marital Status

In 1950 the male population of Washington that was 14 years and older totaled 919,161, and the female population in the same age group totaled 862,214. The marital status for this segment of the state's total population was:

  • Unmarried males: 238,492  (25.9 percent)
  • Unmarried females: 133,118 (15.4 percent)
  • Married males: 612,237 (66.6 percent)
  • Married females: 603,809 (70 percent)
  • Widowed or divorced males:  68,932  (7.5 percent)
  • Widowed or divorced females: 125,287 (14.5 percent)

The fact that  married men outnumbered married women by 8,428 may be due to the fact that some men were working in Washington, but had wives in other states. However, this supposition is not specifically evident from the data.

Population Characteristics:  Education

Education statistics from the 1950 census are based on 1,412,020 Washington residents age 25 and older. The median number of school years completed was 11.2. The number of years completed for various levels of schooling were:

  • No schooling completed: 12,220 (.9 percent)
  • Not reporting: 42,130 (3 percent)
Elementary school:
  • One to four years: 53,370 (3.8 percent)
  • Five and six years:  70,265 (5 percent)
  • Seven years: 70,825 (5 percent)
  • Eight years: 294,265 (21 percent)

High school:

  • One to three years:  252,215 (18 percent)
  • Four years:  369,685 (26.2 percent)

College:

  • One to three years:  145,520 (10 percent)
  • Four years or more: 101,525  (7.1 percent)

Total School Enrollment:

In 1950, the population of Washington state between ages five and 29 was 891,745. Of this total, 440,550 (49.4 percent) were enrolled in school. Somewhat surprisingly, the highest percentage rate of school enrollment was among the rural farm population, at 60.7 percent.

Population Characteristics: Employment


The total potential Washington state labor force (defined as all persons over age 14) in 1950 was 919,661 males and 862,214 females, for a total of 1,781,875.

  • Men actually in civilian labor force: 662,663
  • Men actually employed: 616,635 
  • Men unemployed: 46,028
  • Women  actually in civilian labor force:  238,083
  • Women actually employed:  223,427 
  • Women unemployed: 14,656

Of  the 840,062  men and women workers in the civilian labor force in Washington state in 1950, the distribution among areas of employment (using contemporary definitions) were:

  • Craftsmen, foremen, and kindred workers:  132,665 (15.8 percent)
  • Operatives and kindred workers: 125,032  (14.9 percent)
  • Clerical and kindred workers:  104,877 (12.5 percent)
  • Managers, official, and proprietors (except farm): 86,667 (10.3 percent)
  • Professional, technical, and kindred workers:  83,310 (9.9 percent)
  • Service workers (except private household): 73,093  (8.7 percent)
  • Laborers (except farm and mine workers): 69,118 (8.2 percent)
  • Sales workers: 65,158  (7.8 percent)
  • Farmers and farm managers: 45,719   (5.4 percent)
  • Farm laborers and foremen: 22,394  (2.4 percent)
  • Private household workers:  13,786    (1.6 percent)
  • Unpaid family workers: 7,128  (0.8 percent)
  • Occupation not reported: 11,115 (1.3 percent)

By industry, the five top employers in 1950 were:

  • Retail trade: 141,564
  • Manufacturing (durable goods): 117,607
  • Professional and related services (including education): 81,805
  • Manufacturing (non-durable goods): 60,079
  • Transportation: 52,736

Population Characteristics: Income (based on 1949 figures)

Unlike later censuses, the 1950 census did not attempt to make a judgment of what income level constituted "poverty," but rather just gave the total number of persons in various income groups.

"Median income" is the midpoint of all incomes. Half of all actual incomes will be above the "median income" figure and half will be below.

"Per capita personal income" is derived by dividing total state personal income by total population, including non-earners such as children and the retired. The total is not limited to wages, but includes all income earned by Washington households, including wages, self-employment income, interest, dividends, rent, social security, and other transfer payments.

The statistics for family and non-family incomes for the year 1949 in Washington were:

  • Median family income:  $3,495
  • Median income for individuals living alone or with unrelated persons: $1,130
  • Per capita income: $1,721

The overall income statistics for all persons in 1949 were:

  • Less than $500:  81,770
  • $500-$999: 80,475
  • $1,000-$1,499:  72,560
  • $1,500-$1,999: 52,725
  • $2,000-$2,499: 64,825
  • $2,500-$2,999:  65,840
  • $3,000-$3,499:  86,665
  • $3,500-$3,999:  73,645
  • $4,000-$4,499:  59,145
  • $4,500-$4,999:  41,945
  • $5,000-$5,999:  59,260
  • $6,000-$6,999: 33,070
  • $7,000-$9,999:  33,105
  • Over $10,000:  19,565
  • Income not reported:  53,810

After the 1950 count, the Census Bureau began taking more interest in social and economic statistics, including a vastly more detailed count of various racial groups and increased emphasis on the extent of poverty in the nation. 


Sources: "Components of Change," Washington State Office of Financial Management website accessed May 10, 2010 (www.ofm.wa.gov/pop/april1/cmp_chg.xls); Washington State Historical "Decennial Populations for State, County, and City/Town: 1890 to 2000," Washington State Office of Financial Management website accessed May 10, 2010 (www.ofm.wa.gov/pop/decseries/historicalpop.xls); "Census of Population: 1950, Vol. 2, Part 47 (Washington)," United States Census Bureau website accessed May 10, 2010 (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/37784087v2p47.pdf); "Census Data for the Year 1950," University of Virginia, Fisher Library website accessed May 10, 2010 (http://fisher.lib.virginia.edu/cgi-local/censusbin/census/cen.pl?year=950); "Population Change by Decade: East and West," Washington State Office of Financial Management website accessed May 10, 2010 (http://www.ofm.wa.gov/pop/census2000/pl/charts/chart02.asp); G. Andrew Bernat Jr., "Convergence in State Per Capita Income, 1950-1959," Survey of Current Business, June, 2001, Map 1, p. 45.
Note: This essay replaces an earlier essay on the same subject.

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