LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The latest demographic review for the central Arkansas metropolitan area shows an overall downward growth trend.

The analysis was done by the Metropolitan Planning Organization, Metroplan, for the Little Rock – North Little Rock – Conway metropolitan statistical area. In its 2023 Demographic Review and Outlook publication, the group found less in-migration and slowing population growth for the region.

This is the same trend seen throughout the south-central national region, the study’s authors said. They pointed to a declining national fertility rate and an aging population as being factors in these changes.

The study showed that the fertility rate in central Arkansas had dropped from 67.7 births per 1,000 women in 1990 to 58.5 in 2020.

The aging population is a factor in the increasing death rate, the authors said, but the study also found that deaths caused by drug and alcohol abuse and suicides, which it called “deaths by despair,” are increasing in the region. The authors added that overall life expectancy has declined in the U.S., including central Arkansas.

Statistics showed that COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in central Arkansas in 2021, behind heart disease and cancer. It remains unclear what the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be in the region, the authors said.

In population growth, Conway surpassed North Little Rock in population size after the 2020 census and is now the region’s second-largest city behind Little Rock. Ward in Lonoke County is the fastest-growing city in the region and the 10th largest.

The study also found that building permits had decreased 22% from 2021 to 2022.

“Migration is unlike to return to pre-2010 rates,” the study said.

Metroplan is an association of local governments that has operated by inter-local agreement since 1955. Originally formed as the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission of Pulaski County, Metroplan now has members in Pulaski, Faulkner, Saline, Lonoke and Grant Counties and is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization under Title 23 of the United States Code.