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Arizona-Sonora Region - Population

By Lora Mwaniki-Lyman, Vera Pavlakovich-Kochi and Ruth Christopherson

Characteristics of Population by Age Group 2008
Arizona Border Region Population
Sonora Border Region Population
Arizona and Sonora Heritage
Arizona and Sonora Border Communities

Arizona and Sonora share a 361 mile long portion of the 1,969 miles of international border between the United States and Mexico. Combined Arizona and Sonora cover an area of 183,460 square miles or 19.1 percent of all U.S.-Mexico border states with a population of 8,987,788 (2008 Arizona estimates1 and Sonora projections2) comprising 10.1 percent of the total U.S.-Mexico border states’ population. Arizona is more densely populated than Sonora; 57 persons per square mile compared to 36. Both are less densely populated than their respective border states: California, New Mexico and Texas in the United States and Baja California, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas in Mexico.

Table 1: Arizona, Sonora and U.S. – Mexico Border States Population

  Arizona Sonora Arizona-Sonora Combined U.S. Border States Mexico Border States U.S.-Mexico Border States
Size (sq. mi) 113,635 69,825 183,460 652,747 307,292 960,039
Persons per sq mile (2008) 57 36 49 107 62 92
Population (2008), estimates 6,500,180 2,487,608 8,987,788 69,568,176 19,076,831 88,645,007
Pouplation (2005), estimates 5,961,239 2,394,861 8,356,100 66,570,666 18,199,504 84,770,170
Population (2000), Census 5,130,632 2,216,969 7,347,601 61,673,146 16,642,676 78,315,822
Population (1990), Census 3,665,228 1,823,606 5,488,834 51,926,828 11,274,651 63,201,479
Population change (2000-2008) 26.7% 12.2% 22.3% 12.8% 14.6% 13.2%
Population change (2000-2005) 16.2% 8.0% 13.7% 7.9% 9.4% 8.2%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Consejo Nacional de Población (CONAPO)


The United States Census Bureau reported Arizona’s 2008 population as 6,500,180 persons comprising 2.14 percent of the United States total population. Between 2000 and 2008, Arizona’s population grew at an annual rate of 2.96 percent, a faster growth rate than all the other U.S. border-states. It was also the second fastest-growing state in the United States between July 2007 and July 2008, growing at a 2.3 percent rate. Most of the population growth in Arizona is concentrated in the Phoenix metro area (Maricopa and Pinal Counties). The Phoenix metro area, which accounts for 66 percent of Arizona’s population, grew at a 2.4 percent growth rate between 2007 and 2008. Pinal, was the third fastest growing in the U.S. between the April 1, 2000 Census and July 1, 2008 estimates at 78.3 percent increase. The Census Bureau estimates that more than 58.8 percent of the growth in Arizona is attributed to net migration both state-to-state and international.

Mexico’s National Council of Population (CONAPO) projected Sonora’s population for 2008 at 2,477,858, which comprises 2.33 percent of Mexico’s total population. Sonora’s population grew much slower than Arizona’s. Between 2000 and 2008, Sonora’s population grew at an annual rate of 1.4 percent, ranking the second slowest growing state among the six Mexico border states. Hermosillo, Sonora’s capital and its largest city, accounts for 26.7 percent of Sonora’s total population according to the 2005 census.  Hermosillo’s population grew at an annual growth rate of 2.5 percent between 2000 and 2005 compared to Sonora’s 1.6 growth rate. Hermosillo is one of the fastest growing cities in Mexico. Most of the population growth is due to the high migration of people from other Mexican states looking for work in the maquila sector and other production-sharing facilities located in Hermosillo. The municipio of Hermosillo was projected to growth by 2.3 percent between 2007 and 2008. Over 90 percent of the people in the municipio live in the city of Hermosillo.

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Characteristics of Population by Age Group, 2008

In 2008, 26 percent of Arizona’s total population was below the age of eighteen while 13 percent of the population was above the age of sixty-five. Sonora, on the other hand had a much larger proportion of its population below the age of eighteen (35 percent) and a smaller proportion of its population above the age of sixty-five (5 percent).  Both Sonora and Arizona have a sizeable working-age populations; Arizona’s working age population includes a total of 2,680,368 persons or 41 percent of Arizona’s 2008 population, while Sonora’s working age population was estimated at 3,893,400 persons or 43 percent of Sonora’s 2008 population.

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Arizona Border Region Population

The Arizona Border Region, defined as counties adjacent to the international border -- Cochise, Pima, Santa Cruz and Yuma -- covers an area of 22,107.44 square miles with 1,378,269 people living in the region (Census Bureau estimates for 2008).  21.2 percent of Arizona’s 2008 population live in the Border Region. The largest of Arizona’s border counties is Pima County with 73 percent of the Border Region’s population.  Pima County includes the City of Tucson, Arizona’s second largest city after Phoenix.  The Tucson metro area (Pima County) accounted for 15.6 percent of Arizona’s total population in 2008.

Table 2: Arizona Border Region Population

  Cochise Pima Santa Cruz Yuma Border Region Arizona Border Region Share
Size (sq. mi) 6,169 9,186 1,238 5,514 22,107 113,635 19.5%
Population (2008) Estimates 129,006 1,012,018 42,923 194,322 1,378,269 6,500,180 21.2%
Population (2007) Estimates 127,931 996,593 42,475 189,610 1,356,609 6,353,421 21.4%
Population (2000) Census 117,732 843,742 38,381 160,026 1,159,881 5,130,632 22.6%
Population growth (%) 2007-2008 0.8% 1.5% 1.1% 2.5% 1.6% 2.3%  

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

The Census Bureau estimates that Arizona’s Border Region population grew at a slower pace than the rest of the state. Between 2007 and 2008 Arizona’s Border Region saw a population growth rate of 1.6 percent compared to Arizona’s average growth rate of 2.3 percent. The lower than average population growth rate estimate for Arizona’s Border Region is attributed to both lower birth rates and in-migration rates compared to the State’s averages. The Region’s birth rate for every 1,000 in 2008 was 14.32 compared to the State’s 15.68 birth rate, while the net migration rate for every 1000 was 9.13 compared to the states 13.92, respectively. Yuma stands alone as the only border county with a higher rate of population growth than the state of 2.5 percent in 2008, which is largely due to higher in-migration rates, as Yuma County has a large agricultural sector that attracts migrant workers and is also a popular retirement destination.

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Sonora Border Region Population

The Sonora Border Region consists of eleven municipios (comparable to counties in the U.S.), which are adjacent to the international border. These are: Agua Prieta, Altar, Caborca, Cananea, General Plutarco Elías Calles, Naco, Nogales, Puerto Peñasco, San Luis Rio Colorado, Santa Cruz, and Saric.  Combined, they have 632,005 residents (2008 CONAPO projections) or 25.5 percent of Sonora’s population. Between 2007 and 2008 Sonora’s Border Region population is estimated to have grown by 1.6 percent. Two of Sonora’s ten Border Region municipos show trends of a declining population between 2007 and 2008. These municipos include Caborca at a 1 percent decline and Cananea at a 0.5 percent decline.

Table 3: Sonora Border Region Population

  Population Estimates (2005) Population Projections(2007) Population Projections (2008) Population Change     (2005-2008) Population Change       (2007-2008)
Agua Prieta 70,313 72,489 73,281 4.2% 1.1%
Altar 8,396 8,807 9,017 7.4% 2.4%
Caborca 70,947 70,064 69,365 -2.2% -1.0%
Cananea 32,644 32,389 32,227 -1.3% -0.5%
General Plutarco Elías Calles 12,612 12,643 12,669 0.5% 0.2%
Naco 6,042 6,252 6,351 5.1% 1.6%
Nogales 192,625 203,719 208,901 8.4% 2.5%
Puerto Peñasco 44,313 49,828 52,742 19.0% 5.8%
San Luis Río Colorado 158,154 161,481 162,950 3.0% 0.9%
Santa Cruz 1,800 1,859 1,891 5.1% 1.7%
Sáric 2,504 2,577 2,611 4.3% 1.3%
Sonora Total 2,399,990 2,451,467 2,477,858 3.2% 1.1%
Total Border Municipals 600,350 622,108 632,005 5.3% 1.6%
Border Region Share 25.0% 25.4% 25.5%    

Source:  Consejo Nacional de Población (CONAPO)

Amongst the border municipios, Puerto Peñasco (Rocky Point) had the highest population growth rate between 2007 and 2008 of 5.8 percent. The border municipio Nogales had the second highest growth rate for border municipios at 2.5 percent followed by the municipio Altar with an increase in population of 2.4 percent. Puerto Peñasco is a popular tourist destination for people from the U.S. with a growing leisure and hospitality economic subsector. The prospect of job opportunities in this subsector makes migration desirable for individuals seeking employment.

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Arizona and Sonora Heritage

Arizona and Sonora share long-standing cultural ties rich in Hispanic and Latino cultures, Native American Indian heritage and Spanish influence. For a long time, Arizona and Sonora were part of the Nuevo Vizcaya region formed in 1562 during Spanish colonial rule.  Today’s boundary between Arizona and Sonora was established in 1854 with the Gadsden Purchase of southern Arizona by the United States from Mexico. The Gadsden Purchase provided the U.S. with land necessary for southern transcontinental railroad as well as the closure to conflicts lingering after the Mexican-American War  

Pre-colonial native inhabitants of the Arizona region included Hohokam, Patayan, Pinacatenos and Arcnenos. The Arizona border region is home for all or part of five Indian Reservations: Cocopah, Fort Yuma (Quechan), Tohono O’odham, Pascua Yaqui and San Xavier Indian Reservations. Of the four border counties in Arizona, Cochise County is the only border county and one of three in all of Arizona without an Indian reservation. According to Census Bureau estimates about 50 percent of the Border Region population is of Hispanic or Latino origin. Santa Cruz and Yuma counties reported higher shares of people with a Hispanic or Latino origin: 80.2 percent and 55.6 percent, respectively.

Table 4: Arizona’s Border Region by Major Race and Age

  Cochise Pima Santa Cruz Yuma Border Region Arizona Border Region Share
Persons under 18 years old, 2008 23.9% 23.6% 30.2% 28.2% 26.5% 26% Above
Persons 65 years old and over, percent, 2008 17.9% 15.2% 13.1% 18.9% 16.3% 13% Above
White persons, percent, 2008 88.9% 88.1% 97.0% 92.4% 91.6% 87% Above
Black Persons, percent, 2008 5.1% 3.7% 0.7% 3.2% 3.2% 4% Below
Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin, percent, 2008 31.7% 33.1% 80.2% 55.6% 50.2% 30% Above

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Pre-colonial Sonora shares the same rich cultural history with Arizona including established Yaqui and Mayo populations. During the early 1800’s, Sonora’s population supported the Mexican independence movement and was officially made a State of Mexico in 1824 under the new Constitution. Today, the Sonora region offers a unique blend of native cultures including the Yaquis, Mayos, Cucapas, Seri, Tarahumara, Pima, and Guarijio societies.

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Arizona-Sonora Border Communities

It should be noted that population in the Border Region is asymmetrically concentrated in the 6 cross-border, twin cities along the Arizona-Sonora border. In Arizona, Santa Cruz and Yuma counties have two border twin cities, Ambos Nogales (Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora) and San Luis/San Luis Rio Colorado, each with population of over 100,000, and one border community of Douglas/Agua Prieta located in Cochise County. The twin cities of San Luis/San Luis Rio Colorado had an estimated population of 187,859 people in 2008; Ambos Nogales had an estimated population of 228,474 people, while the Douglas/Agua Prieta community had an estimated population of 90,796 people. Together, the cross-border communities accounted for 25 percent of the Arizona-Sonora Border Region’s population in 2008.

Table 5: Arizona-Sonora Border Community

Arizona Population Estimates (2008) Sonora Population Projections (2008) Arizona-Sonora Communities Population Estimates (2008)
San Luis 24,909 San Luis Río Colorado  162,950 San Luis/San Luis Rio Colorodo 187,859
Nogales 19,573 Nogales  208,901 Nogales/Nogales 228,474
Douglas 17,515 Agua Prieta  73,281 Douglas/Agua Prieta 90,796

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Consejo Nacional de Población (CONAPO)

Core to these cross-border communities’ origin and existence is the border ports of entry specialized in facilitating international trade between the U.S. and Mexico. Ambos Nogales straddles the De Concini and Moley border port of entries, San Luis/San Luis Colorado border community has a busy San Luis port of entry at its core, while Douglas/Agua Prieta are connected by the Douglas border ports of entry.

In all three cross-border communities, most of the population resides in Sonora. Ambos Nogales has 91 percent of its population in Nogales, Sonora; San Luis/San Luis Colorado has 86.7 percent of its population in San Luis Colorado, Sonora, while Douglas/Agua Prieta has 80 percent of its population residing in Agua Prieta, Sonora.

According to the 2000 Census, 93.6 percent of the population in Nogales, Arizona indicated that they were of Hispanic or Latino origin; 89.2 percent in San Luis, and 86.0 percent in Douglas.

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1. Population estimates for Arizona, its counties and other U.S. States are by the U.S. Census Bureau

2. Population projections for Mexico and Mexican States and regions are by Consejo Nacional de Población (CONAPO) while 2000 and 2005 Census are obtained from INEGI.


Pavlakovich-Kochi, Vera. The Arizona-Sonora Region, Chapter 3, Arizona as a Border State – Competing in the Global Economy, eighty-sixth Arizona Town Hall, June, 2005

Pavlakovich-Kochi, Vera and Lora Mwaniki-Lyman. The Arizona-Sonora Regional Economy and Infrastructure, Chapter 4, Arizona as a Border State – Competing in the Global Economy, eighty-sixth Arizona Town Hall, June, 2005

Worden A., Marshall, Esher, Joseph, Pavlakovich-Kochi, Vera and Lora Mwaniki-Lyman. The Frontline of Trade: The Border States of the United States and Mexico, Chapter 5, Arizona as a Border State – Competing in the Global Economy, eighty-sixth Arizona Town Hall, June, 2005

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