August 28th, 2011
05:25 PM ET

America reaches its demographic tipping point

Editor's Note: An internationally known demographer, Bill Frey specializes in issues involving urban populations, migration, immigration, race, aging, political demographics, and the U.S. Census. He is also a research professor in population studies at the University of Michigan.

By Bill Frey, The Brookings Institution

The latest wave of 2010 Census data, released this week, confirms what earlier surveys have strongly hinted: virtually half of recent births in the U.S. are minorities. We are becoming a more globalized nation than most Americans have experienced in their lifetimes. The great demographic change has potential long term benefits for our population growth in terms of our economic competitiveness in the international marketplace. But these changes, coming so quickly and evolving from the “bottom up” of our age structure, may exacerbate existing cultural generation gaps, as older, largely white generations may be slow to recognize the promise of this change.

The new Census results show 49.8 percent of infants under age one are members of a race-ethnic minority – up from 42.4 percent in 2000. Given this trajectory, and the fact that the Census was taken well over a year ago, it is almost certain we have now “tipped” racially, and more than half of all national births are minorities. More than a quarter of infants are Hispanic; Blacks and Asians comprise 13.6 and 4.2 percent, respectively. Nearly one in twenty births were reported to be two or more races.

The geography of this change is important. Our larger, most urbanized states – magnets for immigrants and “new minorities” as well as major settlements for Blacks – are leading the way toward this transformation. Minority infants now represent the majority of births in 14 states, up from 7 in 2000; the newest ones include New York, New Jersey and Florida (Table 1). California and Texas had already reached this status, and Illinois just missed out.

Yet the new census shows a spread well beyond these areas (see Map 1 below). Minorities now comprise at least 40 percent of infants in more than half of all states, with the white share of infants declining in all of them, with the exception of the District of Columbia. Especially large minority gains occurred in New England states, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, as well as rapidly growing states like Florida, Nevada and Georgia.

Hispanics are a large part of this dispersion. They comprise more than half of all infants in California, Texas, and New Mexico and are the largest source of births in Nevada and Arizona. Among minority births, they contribute the most in 26 states, including Midwest states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa. Blacks represent the largest minority in 17 states – all in the South except for Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

These gains in minority births, especially Hispanics, can be attributed to the growth of the fairly youthful minority populations along with the aging of much of the white population beyond its high fertility years.  As noted elsewhere, there was an absolute decline of white children under 18 nationally between 2000-2010, and it was the new immigrant minorities that were responsible for all child growth.

Read: Latin America's Decade: A Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

Census data further imply the “bottom up” nature of the nation’s diversification, showing a sharply increased minority presence with younger ages. At the extremes, minorities make up only 15 percent of those aged 85 and older, but nearly half of the under 5 age group. This span reflects several generations of change in America. Most baby boomers and seniors grew up in an era of low immigration, and the small minority population  was comprised largely of African Americans.

In contrast, those below age 35 grew up at a time of rising immigration. Hispanics and Asians combined comprised the lion’s share of the minority population and, in highly diverse parts of country, interracial mingling took place in classrooms, workplaces and civic activities.

In some places this youthful diversification occurred rapidly. For example, Arizona in 2000 had a minority majority population below age 9, but by 2010, that cutoff rose to age 24. Similar rapid shifts occurred in Nevada, Florida and Georgia. In California,  the population under age 52 is now “majority minority”, but older boomers and seniors are far less diverse than younger generations.

Read: The Uneven Aging and "Younging" of America: State and Metropolitan Trends in the 2010 Census

These trends can only exacerbate “cultural generation gaps” between the young and the old when it comes to issues that could potentially divide communities.

Using a short hand measure of this gap, (the difference between the white share of age 65 and over population minus the white share of the below age 18 population) it is clear that gaps are larger in states with substantial minority growth infusions,like Arizona and Nevada, than in those a still small minority presence, like West Virginia or Vermont.

As America’s younger population becomes more diverse and spreads to broader parts of the country, we need forward-looking political and civic leaders to bridge race-generational divides that are already fuelling issues like immigration and our ongoing budget battles over revenue and government spending choices. Older Americans fear cuts to Medicare and Social Security, but they need to understand the long-term benefits for the country and for them that will come from providing younger Americans the wherewithal for good education, housing support and health care. Our young, diverse population will be the backbone of our labor force and will provide future business and government leadership, in a new American demographic era.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Bill Frey.

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Topics: Demographics • United States • Youth

soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. 100% ETHIOPIAN

    I think, I read Bill Frey's article before. He try to say, Jewish groups are difficult when it comes to race relations or mixed races. So, who else the self-centered anti-American groups?

    August 28, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Reply
  2. Gethetruth

    Clearly, the illegal Hispanics are breeding like flies with anchor babies and they are draining the economy, but so are the legal Hispanic. Stop making babies, use a condom fool and have fewer babies and give them a good life. The Hispanics also contribute most to the obesity in the country. If you eat like a pig and you will look like a pig. The Hispanic also do not do well in school and do not pursue higher education. The first generation Hispanics are the worst, they have acquired all the bad habits and life style from the worst of the Black people. I am a fking racists, I hate all races. Just don't make babies if you cannot afford a condom!!

    August 28, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Reply
  3. Reader

    I'm sorry to say that Bill Frey is not much of a "demographer". One third of Hispanics in America are white. Why should they be called minorities? If they are minorities then why not Italian-Americans or German-Americans? In that case this country has been majority minority (non-anglo saxon) for 200 years. Also, the out marriage rate of Hispanics and Asians is approximately one third and the majority of such marriages are with whites. Both of these facts drastically alter Frey's conclusions. This kind of lurid race drama ignorant of all fact is the American media at it's worst and the sort of thing I expect Fareed to be above.

    August 28, 2011 at 10:28 pm | Reply
  4. Carlito1

    Keep being racist white people, we taking over this country and to the comment above, majority of my fellow hispanics/latino dont consider themselves white and we dont want to be. Minorities taking over. BROWN PRIDE!!! x14

    September 4, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Reply
  5. Red Veteran

    @Gethetruth
    The younger generations are going to be covering your medicaid check when you retire, if you have a problem with that than you should consider denying those checks when they arrive at your doorstep. The government has robbed you, not the immigrants. The growing strength of the government should be a concern of yours, not the color of people's skin and silly stereotypes. Have some knowledge of what you are talking about before you start criticizing other people. Europeans (the whites) were the minority back when the colonies where just being settled (Native Americans were the original majority) and they multiplied. Our ancestors were immigrants just as estranged to this land as these immigrants and minorities today. Give it a break, it's not something to get your panties all up in a bunch now. It's change and it's nothing to be worried about. Redirect your focus.

    October 24, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Reply
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