US Will Have Minority Whites Sooner, Says Demographer

For the first time, an analysis of census and demographic data shows that minorities comprise a majority of babies in the U.S. Guest host Tony Cox speaks with demographer and research professor William Frey of the University of Michigan about what the trend means, and whether predictions that the U.S. will become a "minority majority" by 2050 are too conservative.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

TONY COX, host: Now to the changing face of America. A close look at U.S. Census Bureau numbers as well as other reporting shows that for the first time, minorities make up a majority of babies born in the United States. Put another way: The future is here, at least for the 2-year-old-and-under set.

Demographers say that by the middle of the century, the social order will change significantly. And racial and ethnic minorities will become the majority of the U.S. population.

William Frey has analyzed the census numbers in a recent report. He is a research professor in population studies at the University of Michigan, and he joins us now. Welcome.

WILLIAM FREY: Good to be with you, Tony.

COX: Thank you. We put out a call on Facebook, asking for input regarding your studies. And we received well over 850 comments from people about having children or not having children. Here's one of them.

ALICIA OSBORN: I am Alicia Osborn(ph), and I currently live in Columbia, South Carolina. I'm a Mexican Indian - Zapotec Nation - adopted by Caucasian parents, and fell in love with an African-American man. And we made a beautiful, chocolate-caramel baby. My daughter's father is 33, and I am 29. While I did not expect to have children quite this young - I was hoping to be a little bit older, but I've always wanted to have, you know, at least one if not - maybe up to four children. And I do know that a lot of my peers are happy with one or two. But I've always been of the mindset that the more, the merrier.

COX: So William, does she represent your findings?

FREY: Well, in a way. You know, what we've looked at here is American community survey data, adjusted with some of the recent census results. And we do find that just under half of the people who are 1 year of age or under - that is, zero ages, less than a year old - are white. And the rest of the country, of course, is still majority white. But this is the tipping point of where we're going to be in the future.

I think the person we just heard is part of that mix. We have a very high percentage of Hispanic kids, who are about a quarter of the children in this very young age group. And then there's a whole mix of folks - African-Americans, two or more races, and so forth. The idea that she plans to have a lot of children may not be the future scenario of all of these young people, but certainly is more the case than it is for the older white population in the United States, which has now a fertility rate that's under replacement.

COX: So does that explain why this is happening? The white population is getting older, less fertile, and that the younger population is people of color and they are producing more.

FREY: Well, I wouldn't put it as there's one group that's not having any fertility and the other group is very, very fertile. I mean, I think that's the wrong way to examine what's going on. What we've had in this country is a gradual aging of the white population. I mean, now the first baby boomer just turned age 65 last January.

But this aging, what it means is that there are proportionately fewer women in their child-bearing ages. So on the whole, they're going to have fewer children. And they have slightly less than what you would call replacement fertility, but almost at replacement. So the white population's almost replacing itself.

The Latino population is a much younger population because of the recent immigration waves, although I have to say that Latino growth is primarily from natural increase rather than from immigration. It's basically the younger age structure of Latinos, as well as some higher fertility that's bringing along this growth. So it's a gradual process.

You know, if it wouldn't be for the new minorities - Hispanics, Asians, mixed-race people - we would almost have a decline in children in this country. So we really need to look at this as the source of our growth - and a welcome source of our growth because we would otherwise be a lot like Japan or several European countries, who are actually experiencing a decline in their labor force population because they've had such low fertility.

COX: You're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. And we're speaking about the changing social order in the United States in coming decades, made evident in a recent study of census numbers by William Frey, a demographer, academic and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Here's another one of the comments, William, that we heard from our Facebook request for listener input.

KARA FLORA: I'm Kara Flora(ph), and I'm from Whatcom County in Washington State. I am child-free, and my husband got fixed when he was 30 years old. We're both Caucasian. We don't want to contribute to overpopulation. We want to enjoy our lives. And we don't feel that having a child is necessary to live a happy life.

My mom is one of 10 kids, and they almost all have kids of their own. I have 22 cousins. They're all first cousins. And I see a lot of those cousins now falling in line with me, saying: I don't think I want kids.

COX: So William, what will America look like at the next census, in 2020? And could predictions of a minority population becoming the majority by 2050 be wrong, or be changed by some as-yet-unforeseen circumstance?

FREY: Well, I do think that this growth of the younger minority population, and also people like the woman who we just heard, who feels like they don't want to have as many children and they're mostly Caucasian - although I don't want to make this very broad categorization, because there are people of all races - don't want to have any more children.

But I think, again, because the younger age structure and the somewhat higher fertility of new minorities in the United States, we may, by 2020, have a majority minority child population in the United States. And, of course, the Census Bureau has projected that by 2042, we'd have a majority minority total population - that is, less than 50 percent whites in the total population.

But I think that projection probably did not take into account what we've seen in the 2010 census, which shows a somewhat more accelerated growth of the minority population. So I think probably well before 2040, we'll have majority minority whites - to the extent that we think of races as whites and Hispanics, and so forth. I think we're going to be a much more mixed-race country by the time we get to 2040.

COX: Here's a final question for you: Where do African-Americans fit in this picture? You've already described that whites, their numbers are dwindling in terms of the zero to 5-year-old population, and that the Hispanic population of that same demographic is surging. Where does the African-American population in that demographic fall?

FREY: Well, the African-American population still has a fertility that's above replacement. It's not nearly as high as it is for Latinos. It's slightly higher than replacement. So we'll still be growing. There are some African-American - well, we call them African-Americans - but black immigrants to the United States, which helps to contribute to that growth. So I think we'll still see a growing African-American population.

I think African-Americans - as with whites, and probably eventually with Latinos - as they become bigger numbers in the U.S. and there's many further generations - second, third, fourth generation - find that, you know, as more women get into the labor force, as there's more interest in being able to plan their families, the general fertility rate goes down over time, but it doesn't mean that there's anything about the African-American population that will be shrinking in the United States.

I think it will be growing. And the fact that it does have lower fertility, I think, is a testament to its higher socioeconomic status, higher education among women in the African-American community. So I do feel like, you know, from a demographic standpoint, there will be a viable and important population in the future.

COX: William Frey is a demographer and research professor in population studies at the University of Michigan. He joined us from the studios of the Brookings Institution here in Washington. William, thank you very much.

FREY: Sure. I'm pleased to do it.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: