After years of speculation, estimates and projections, the US Census Bureau has made it official: White births are no longer a majority in the US.
Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 49.6 percent of all births in the 12-month period that ended in July last year, according to Census Bureau data made public yesterday, while minorities — including Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and those of “mixed race” — reached 50.4 percent, representing a majority for the first time in the country’s history.
Such a turn has been long expected, but no one was certain when the moment would arrive — signaling a milestone for a nation whose government was founded by white Europeans and has wrestled mightily with issues of race, from the days of slavery, through a civil war, bitter civil rights battles and, most recently, highly charged debates over efforts to restrict immigration.
While overall, whites will remain a majority for some time, the fact that a younger generation is being born in which minorities are the majority has broad implications for the country’s economy, its political life and its identity.
“This is an important tipping point,” Brookings Institution enior demographer William Frey said, describing the shift as a “transformation from a mostly white baby boomer culture to the more globalized multiethnic country that we are becoming.”
Signs that the country is evolving this way start with the Oval Office and have swept hundreds of counties in recent years, with 348 in which whites are no longer in the majority. That number doubles when it comes to the toddler population, Frey said. Whites are no longer the majority in four states and the District of Columbia, and have slipped below half in many major metropolitan areas, including New York, Las Vegas and Memphis.
A more diverse young population forms the basis of a generational divide with the country’s elderly, a group that is largely white and grew up in a world that was too.
The contrast raises important policy questions. The US has a spotty record educating minority youth; will older Americans balk at paying to educate a younger generation that looks less like themselves? And while the increasingly diverse young population is a potential engine of growth, will it become a burden if it is not properly educated?
“The question is: How do we reimagine the social contract when the generations don’t look like one another?” New York University co-director of Immigration studies Marcelo Suarez-Orozco said.
The trend toward greater minority births has been building for years, the result of the large wave of immigration over the past three decades. Hispanics make up the majority of immigrants, and they tend to be younger — and to have more children — than non-Hispanic whites. Of the total births in the year that ended in July last year, about 26 percent were Hispanic, about 15 percent black and about 4 percent Asian.
Whites still represent the single largest share of all births, at 49.6 percent, and are an -overwhelming majority in the population as a whole, at 63.4 percent. However, they are aging, causing a tectonic shift in US demographics. The median age for non-Hispanic whites is 42 — meaning the bulk of women are moving out of their prime childbearing years.
Latinos, on the other hand, are squarely within their peak fertility, with a median age of 27, Pew Hispanic Center senior demographer Jeffrey Passel said. Between 2000 and 2010, there were more Hispanic births in the US than there were arriving Hispanic immigrants, he said.