1980 Census: Population up by more than 21 percent in Washington state, but cities mostly stagnate; "baby bust" of 1960s becomes apparent; more women than men, but they earn much less.

  • By John Caldbick
  • Posted 5/18/2010
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9431

The Census Bureau continues to refine its methodology in the 1980 census, with nearly 95 percent of the U.S. population now counted using only a "mail-out/mail-back" questionnaire. Another major change is the inclusion of a question regarding Spanish or Hispanic origin or descent on all questionnaires, something that had been asked of only a 5 percent sampling of the population in 1970. Despite these attempts at improvement, subsequent studies will show that the 1980 census undercounts the total national population by at least 1.2 percent, and that the undercount rate for African Americans is a disturbing 3.7 percent higher than for all other races combined. The 1980 census results for Washington state shows  an overall urban population increases of more than 21 percent from 1970, but  most of the state's largest cities see little growth within urban boundaries. After three decades of  population counts inflated by the post-World War II baby boom, the effects of the post-1964 "baby bust" are seen. The white population of the state, expressed as a percentage of total population, decrease by almost 4 percent from 1970, and although  income in general is substantially higher than in 1970, there is a glaring imbalance between the income of men and that of  women.

Population and Growth

The total population of Washington state in 1980 was 4,132,156, an increase of  21.1 percent from the 1970 count of 3,413,244, and the average population density state-wide was 62.1 persons per square mile.

The largest 10 of the 39 counties in Washington state by population were:

  • King: 1,269,749 (up 9.5 percent from 1970 count of 1,159,369)
  • Pierce: 485,643 (up 17.8 percent from 1970 count of 412,344)
  • Spokane: 341,835 (up 18.9 percent from 1970 count of  287,487)
  • Snohomish: 337,720 (up 27.3 percent from 1970 count of 265,236)
  • Yakima: 172,508 (up 18.8 percent from 1970 count of 145,212)
  • Clark: 192,227 (up 49.6  percent from 1970 count of 128,454)
  • Kitsap: 147,152 (up 44.6 percent from 1970 count of 101,732 )
  • Whatcom: 106,701  (up 30.2percent from 1970 count of 81,983)
  • Thurston: 124,264 (up 61.6 percent from 1970 count of 76,894)
  • Benton: 109,444 (up 62 percent from 1970 count of 67,540)

In the 1980 census, Cowlitz County dropped from the top 10 and Benton County was added.

The fasted growing county from 1970 to 1980 in percentage terms was San Juan County, which saw an increase of 103.3 percent. Three counties saw population decline between 1970 and 1980:  Columbia, down 8.6 percent; Garfield, down 15.2 percent; and Kittitas, down 0.6 percent.

Population Distribution: Urban and Rural


The Census Bureau continued in 1980 to fiddle with the categories used to separate "urban" from "rural" populations. For purposes of this brief overview, only the following definitions  are necessary:

"Urbanized area" comprises an incorporated place and the adjacent densely settled surrounding area that together have a population of at least 50,000.

"Densely settled surrounding areas" are contiguous incorporated areas with at least 2,500 persons or with a density of at least 1,000 persons per square mile, and non-incorporated areas connected to a contiguous urbanized area by road, and which have a population density of at least 1,000 persons per square mile.

"Urban population" comprises all persons living in urbanized areas and in places of 2,500 inhabitants or more outside of urbanized areas . 

All persons not counted under "urban population" are considered to be in the "rural population."

  • Total urban population, 1980:  3,037,014, 73.50 percent of total populaton and an increase of 535,963 (21.4 percent) from the 1970 total of 2,501,051.
  • Total rural population, 1980: 1,095,142, 26.5 percent of total population and an increase of 187,024 (20.6 percent) from the 1970 total of  908,118.

Population of the 10 largest cities in the state in 1980, with comparisons to the 1970 count:

  • Seattle: 493,846  (7.1 percent decrease from 1970 population of 530,831). In 1980, Seattle was the 23rd largest city in United states, down from 22nd in 1970.
  • Spokane: 171,300 (0.46 percent increase from the 1970 count of 170,516). In 1980, Spokane was the 82nd largest city in the United States, down from 80th in 1970.
  • Tacoma: 158,501 (2.65 percent increase from the 1970 count of 154,407). In 1980, Tacoma was the 98th largest city in the United States, down from 89th in 1970.
  • Bellevue: 73,903 (21 percent increase from 1970 count of 61,196)
  • Everett: 54,415 (1.48 percent increase from 1970 count of 53,622)
  • Yakima: 49,826  (9.3 percent increase from 1970 count of  45,588)
  • Bellingham: 45,794 (16.3 percent increase from 1970 count of 39,375)
  • Vancouver:  42,834  (2.3 percent increase from 1970 count of 41,859)
  • Bremerton: 36,208  (2.5 percent increase from 1970 count of 35,307)
  • Kennewick:  34,391  (126 percent increase from 1970 count of 15,212)

Population Characteristics:  Sex

In the 1980 census, females and males were in a virtual statistical tie, but women barely outnumbered men by 27,542, the equivalent of only .6 of 1 percent of total population.

  • Female population 1980: 2,079,849 (50.3 percent of total population)
  • Female population 1970: 1,715,422 (50.3 percent of total population)
  • Male population 1980:  2,052,307 (49.67 percent of total population) 
  • Male population 1970:  1,693,747 (49.67 percent of total population)

Men outnumbered women up to age 49, at which point female longevity more than made up the difference. In the category of persons age 50 and older, women outnumbered men by 87,413 (550,273 to 462,860).

Population Characteristics: Age


In 1980 there were 924,129 children 14 years of age or younger, a decrease of 33,602 (3.5 percent) from 1970 count of 957,731. This demonstrated the effect of the so-called "baby bust" that followed the post-World War II baby boom.

The median age for all persons in Washington state in 1980 was 29.77 years, meaning that one-half of all persons were older than that and one-half were younger. The median age for males in 1980 was 28.99 years, and the median age for females was 30.64.

The population distribution by age in 1980 was:

  • Under 5 years: 306,123 (8.99 percent increase from 1970 count of 280,875)
  • 5-9  years: 296,011 (10.04 percent decrease from 1970 count of 329,044)
  • 10-19 years: 691,018 (1.61 percent increase from 1970 count of 680,072)
  • 20-29 years: 790,539  (47.59 percent increase from1970 county of 535,638) 
  • 30-39 years: 628,027 (67.45 percent increase from 1970 county of 375,046)
  • 40-49 years: 407,305 (2.50 percent increase from 1970 count of 397,375) 
  • 50-59 years: 402,534 (13.00 percent increase from 1970 count of 356,232)
  • 60-69 years: 330,361 (34.62 percent increase from 1970 count of 245,409)
  • 70-79 years: 189,432 (28.69  percent increase from 1970 count of 147,196)
  • 80 and older: 90,806 (36.84 percent increase from 1970 count of 66,357)

Population Characteristics: Race

The racial makeup of Washington state in 1980 was 3,779,170 (91.56 percent) white residents and only 352,986 (8.54 percent) minorities. Although the state remained overwhelmingly white, minorities saw a substantial increase in numbers since the 1970 census, when whites accounted for 95.4 percent of the population and minorities only 4.6 percent. This trend was to continue:  by the time of the 2000 census,  only 81.8 percent of the state's total population was white, and 18.2 percent belonged to minority groups. 

Also of historical interest, the 1980 census was the first to use the descriptor "Black,"  replacing the word "Negro." The percentages given below may not total exactly 100 percent due to rounding.

Population by race, 1980:

  • White: 3,779,170 (91.46 percent of total population)
  • Black:  105,574  (2.55 percent of total population)
  • American Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut:  60,804 (1.47 percent of total population)
  • Japanese:  26,378  (0.64 percent of total population)
  • Filipino:  24,374  (0.59 percent of total population)
  • Chinese:  18,114  (0.44 percent of total population)
  • Korean: 13,083 (1.32 percent of total population)
  • Vietnamese:  9,838 (0.24 percent of total population)
  • Asian Indian: 4,002 (0.10 percent of total population)
  • Hawaiian: 2,976 (0.01 percent of total population)\
  • Hispanic origin (of any race): 120,016 (2.90 percent of total population)
  • Other race: 87,843  (2.12 percent of total population)

Although not necessarily related to race, the 1980 census revealed that 3,893,096 (94.2 percent of all Washington residents) were born in the United States, and 239,060 (5.8 percent) were foreign-born.

The racial makeup of Washington state's three largest cities was:

Seattle (total population 493,846)

  • White:  392,766 (79.5 percent of total city population, down from 87.4 percent in 1970)
  • Black: 46,755 (9.5 percent of total city population, up from 7.13 percent in 1970)
  • Asian and Pacific Islander: 36,613 (7.4  percent of total city population, up from 4.2 percent in 1970)
  • Hispanic origin (of any race): 12,646 (2.60 percent of total city population, included in white count; no data available for 1970)
  • American Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut:  6,253 (1.3 percent of total city population, up from .80 percent in 1970)
  • Other race: 11,459 (2.30 percent of total city population, up from .50 percent in 1970.)

Spokane:  (total population 171,300)

  • White:  161,597 (94.3 percent of total city population, down from 97 percent in 1970)
  • Black: 2,767  (1.6 percent of total city population, up from 1.3 percent in 1970)
  • American Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut:  2,694  (1.6 percent of total city population, up from .80 percent in 1970)
  • Hispanic origin (of any race):  2,554  (1.5 percent of total city population, included in White count; no data available for 1970)
  • Asian and Pacific Islander:  2,337 (1.4  percent of total city population, up from .70 percent in 1970)
  • Other race: 1,905 (1.10 percent of total city population, up from .20 percent in 1970.)

Tacoma: (total population 158,501)

  • White:  133,471 (84.2  percent of total city population, down from 90.8 percent in 1970)
  • Black: 14,507 (9.2 percent of total city population, up from 6.8 percent in 1970)
  • Asian and Pacific Islander:  4,737 (3.0  percent of total city population, up from .90 percent in 1970)
  • Hispanic origin (of any race):  3,869 (2.4 percent of total city population, included in White count; no data available for 1970)
  • American Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut:  2,894  (1.80 percent of total city population, up from 1.1 percent in 1970)
  • Other race:  2,891 (1.80 percent of total city population, up from .40 percent in 1970.)

Population Characteristics: Marital Status

Total males older than age 15: 1,579,026

  • Married: 947,501 (60.01 percent)
  • Single:  461,462 (29.22 percent)
  • Divorced:  113,269 (7.17 percent)
  • Separated:  24,903 (1.58 percent)
  • Widowed: 31,891 (2.02 percent)

Total females than age 15: 1,629,001

  • Married:  940,250 (57.72 percent)
  • Single:  340,434 (20.90 percent)
  • Divorced:  148,257 (9.10 percent)
  • Separated:  31,666 (1.94 percent)
  • Widowed:  168,394 (10.34 percent)

Population Characteristics:  Education 

The educational attainment of the 2,439,417 Washington residents older than 25 in 1980 was:

  • Elementary school zero to four years: 35,031
  • Elementary school five to eight years: 217,208
  • High school one to three years: 294,156
  • High school four years (completion): 911,171
  • College one to three years: 519,533
  • College four or more years: 462,318

Population Characteristics: Employment

In 1980, males older than 16 numbered 1,544,322 and of this number 1,183,512 (76.64 percent) were considered to be in the labor force, although not necessarily employed.

Females older than 16 numbered 1,595,821, and of this number 807,371 (50.59 percent) were considered to be in the labor force, although not necessarily employed.

Digging deeper, the following picture of the state's 1980 employment emerges:

  • Men actually employed: 1,047,709 (88.52 percent of male work force)
  • Men unemployed: 86,104 (7.28 percent of male labor force)
  • Men in armed forces: 59,397 (4.20 percent of labor force)
  • Women actually employed: 746,645  (92.48 percent of female labor force)
  • Women unemployed: 57,157 (7.08 percent of female labor force)
  • Women in armed forces: 3,569 (0.44 percent of female labor force)

Of the  1,794,354 men and women workers actually employed in Washington state in 1980, 95 percent were employed in the following trades and professions:

  • Administrative support occupations, including clerical:  298,258 (16.6 percent)
  • Operators, fabricators, and laborers (non-farm): 267,724 (14.9 percent)
  • Precision production, craft, and repair occupations: 247,943 (13.8 percent)
  • Professional specialty occupations:  236,105 (13.2 percent)
  • Service occupations (except protective and household): 200,331 (11.2 percent)
  • Executive, administrative, and managerial occupations:  191,723 (10.7 percent)
  • Sales occupation: 194,077 (10.8 percent)
  • Farming, forestry, and fishing occupations:  68,657 (3.8 percent)
Population Characteristics: Income

"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. The 1980 census showed a shocking disparity between the median income for fully employed males and that for fully employed females. The statistics in Washington for the year 1979 (as measured by the 1980 census) were:
  • Median income for all households: $18,367
  •  Median income for fully employed males 15 years and older: $20,144
  • Median income for fully employed females 15 years and older: $11,558
Population Characteristics: Poverty

Poverty levels for purposes of the 1980 census were based on 1979 figures, the last complete year for which income amounts were available. The poverty level for a family of four was determined to be $7,412 in 1979, and the poverty level for individuals was $3,686:
  • Families below poverty level: 78,194 (7.2 percent of Washington's families)
  • Individuals below poverty level: 549,947 (13.7 percent of total population)

Sources: Campbell Gibson and Kay Jung, "Table 62: Washington -- Race and Hispanic Origin: 1850 to 1990 -- States," Population Division, Working Paper No. 56,  United States Census Bureau website accessed May 14, 2010 (http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0056/tab62.pdf);
Campbell Gibson and Kay Jung, "Table 48: Washington -- Race and Hispanic Origin for Selected Large Cities and Other Places: Earliest Census to 1990," Population Division, Working Paper No. 76,  United States Census Bureau website accessed May 14, 2010 (http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0076/WAtab.pdf); "Characteristics of the Population, Number of Inhabitants -- Part 49: Washington," PC80-1-A49, United States Census Bureau website accessed May 14, 2010 (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1980a_waABC-01.pdf); "April 1 Population Estimates by Age and Sex, 1980-2009: Washington State," State of Washington Office of Financial Management website accessed May 11, 2010 (http://www.ofm.wa.gov/pop/coagemf/state.pdf); Christine M. Ross and Sheldon Danziger, "Poverty Rates by State, 1978 and 1985: A Research Note," Focus, University of Wisconsin-Madison Research on Poverty Institute, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Fall 1987), University of Wisconsin website accessed May 17, 2010 (http://www.irp.wisc.edu/publications/focus/pdfs/); "County-Level Education Data for Washington," United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service website accessed May 17, 2010 (http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/Education/EducListpct.asp?ST=WA&view=Percent); "1980 Overview," United States Census Bureau website accessed May 12, 2010 (http://www.census.gov/history/www/through_the_decades/overview/1980.html); "Total Population for Washington State," State of Washington Office of Financial Management website accessed May 11, 2010 (http://www.ofm.wa.gov/databook/population/pt01.pdf).
Note: This essay replaces an earlier essay on the same subject.

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