Report: U.S. Newborns Increasingly Diverse

Regardless of what you decide to check on the census box this year, one thing is clear: America will look different in a few decades, particularly America's children. A new research paper titled "Growing Diversity Among America's Children and Youth" was published by the University of New Hampshire. The study explores how in the next four decades America’s youth will be more diverse. Host Michel Martin speaks with Professor Kenneth Johnson, he is a senior demographer at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

No matter what box any of us decides to check when that form finally arrives, one thing is clear: the all-American look is about to change. A new research paper titled, "Growing Diversity Among America's Children and Youth," recently published in the journal Population and Development Review, describes just how fast America's racial makeup is changing, especially among children and youth.

The paper says that the rapid increase particularly in the number of Hispanic children born in the U.S. along with the decline in the number of non-Hispanic white children being born means, according to the report, that in many parts of the United States, the future is now.

Joining us now to talk more about this is one of the study's co-authors, the University of New Hampshire's Professor Kenneth Johnson. Welcome, thank you for joining us.

Professor KENNETH JOHNSON (Sociology and Senior Demographer, Carsey Institute, University of New Hampshire): Hello, Michel.

MARTIN: So, professor, we have been hearing this for some time now. We've been hearing that the racial and ethnic minorities - or so-called minorities, we're probably have to come up with a new term, right - will become the majority population in 2042. So, what does your paper tell us that is different?

Prof. JOHNSON: Well, I think what it tells us is that for young children in the United States that future is almost here right now. Last year, 48 percent of the babies born in the United States were minority. That is, they were not non-Hispanic white. And 46 percent of the youngest children are members of minority compared to only 31 percent of the population over the age of 20. So, what we think is that the population is going to become more diverse, essentially from youngest to oldest.

MARTIN: And has this - is this a national phenomenon or is this a geographic phenomenon? Where are we likely to see this? Are we going to see this all over the country?

Prof. JOHNSON: Well, it will - no, it's occurring at a different - in differential ways across the country. There are 500 counties in the United States in which minority children are already the majority of all children in the county. And there are another 300 where minority children are very near the majority. In contrast, there are only 300 counties where overall there are more minority people than non-Hispanic whites.

So, you can see that geographically there - it's much more dispersed than it is for the adult population. Now there are still large parts of the United States which are primarily non-Hispanic white, and there are other parts which are extremely diverse. So, this is a big country and the spatial distributions differ from place to place.

MARTIN: Is there anything in this that surprised you? I understand the study is based on existing data.

Prof. JOHNSON: Yes, it is. It's not based on projections. It's the data that we have at hand now. Although, your last speaker talking about the census really emphasizes the point that if we really want to understand what's happening, we really need everybody to fill this new census out so that demographers will have the latest data from a headcount, not from estimates, to try and make sure we understand what's happening.

MARTIN: I understand, but is there just something new to you?

Prof. JOHNSON: Yes.

MARTIN: There is a sense of urgency to your paper that I wanted to try to capture.

Prof. JOHNSON: Right.

MARTIN: That's what I'm trying to get at.

Prof. JOHNSON: Right. And the two most surprising findings to me, and I'm a demographer who has been watching American demographic trends for my whole career, was number one, that there are not only is the diversity coming because there are more minority children, but because there are fewer non-Hispanic white children being born. There are since - just since 2000, there have been about 4.8 million more non-, minority children born and 2.6 million fewer non-Hispanic white children born.

And as we look deeper into this, one of the reasons that's that happening is because the number of non-Hispanic white women of prime child-bearing age between the age of 20 and 39 has been diminishing. It's down 20 percent since 1990. That's 5.6 million fewer non-Hispanic white women in their prime childbearing years. And as we look to the future to the 10 to 19 year-old-girls, who will be the next generation of mothers, they're only about as many of them among non-Hispanic whites as there are among women of child-bearing age now. So, it's not as if there is not going to be a big surge in them.

In contrast, among the number of minority women of prime child-bearing age, there are 4.5 million more in 2008 than there were just in 2000. And that's a 40 percent - I'm sorry, I'm sorry, that's wrong - that 4.5 million more since 1990, which is a 40 percent gain. So, to me and to my co-author, Dan Lichter at Cornell, the surprising thing was that this is coming both because there are more minority children, which everybody knew, but also because the number of non-Hispanic white children is not as great as it was.

MARTIN: And also the number of Asian children, too. You point out that the number of Asian children being born is not replacing what you call replacement levels. And so, finally...

Prof. JOHNSON: Well, no. I mean, it's more complicated than that. It's correct that the fertility levels of the Asian population are at replacement level, but the Asian population is also being replenished because there are immigrants coming to the United States from Asian countries. And so, they are actually producing more Asian children than there were being produced earlier in the decade.

MARTIN: Well, I guess it makes me wonder whether we're going to have to come up with new terms.

Prof. JOHNSON: Yeah, maybe so. You know, as a demographer, my main worry is about the data. But you're right that it's becoming a little bit awkward to talk about minority-majority counties, so - maybe so.

MARTIN: Have you come up with any ideas for us?

Prof. JOHNSON: No, ma'am. My job is just to work with the data, not worry about new titles.

MARTIN: Maybe we could work Kenneth into it.

Prof. JOHNSON: Maybe.

MARTIN: A Kenneth.

Prof. JOHNSON: ...the Kenneth Demographic Trend.

MARTIN: The Kenneth Demographic Trend, does that sort of work for you? Okay. Kenneth Johnson is a professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. He co-authored a new study about changes in the U.S. demographic makeup. That paper is called "Growing diversity among America's children and youth." If you'd like to read it for yourself, we'll have a link on our Web site at npr.org. Click on programs, then on TELL ME MORE. And he joined us from the phone from his office. Professor Johnson, thank you.

Prof. JOHNSON: Thank you for having me.

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