West Virginia ranked 37th in population in the US with an estimated total of 1,801,873 in 2002, an increase of 0.4% since 2000. Between 1990 and 2000, West Virginia's population grew from 1,793,477 to 1,808,344, an increase of 0.8%. The population is projected to reach 1,849,000 by 2005 and 1.8 million by 2025. The population density in 2000 was 75.1 persons per sq mi.
West Virginia is a relatively old state. In 2000 the median age was 38.9, compared to the US average of 35.3. Persons under 18 years old accounted for 22.3% of the population (the national average was 25.7%) while 15.3% were age 65 or older (national average 12.4%).
The state's population grew rapidly in the 1880s and 1890s, as coal mining, lumbering, and railroads expanded to meet the needs of nearby industrial centers, but the pace of expansion slowed in the early 20th century. The population peaked at 2,005,552 in 1950; then mass unemployment, particularly in the coal industry, caused thousands of families to migrate to midwestern cities. An upswing began in the 1970s.
West Virginia's major cities, all with populations of less than 100,000, are Charleston (the largest city), Huntington, Wheeling, and Parkersburg. The Huntington-Ashland metropolitan region, which includes parts of eastern Kentucky and southern Ohio, had an estimated population of 312,447 in 1999; the Charleston region had 251,199.