Aging White Population Speeding Diversity

Reid Wilson, The Hill, December 2, 2016

A rapidly aging white population and fast-growing younger minority groups are speeding demographic changes across the nation, hastening a political divide likely to have long-term ramifications.

The percentage of the U.S. population that is white has decreased from 79.6 percent in 1980 to 61.9 percent in 2014. The percentage of Latino-Americans has increased from 6.4 percent to 17.3 percent over the same time period, while both the African-American and Asian-American populations have grown, too.

There are growing signs that the rate of change is increasing. The number of non-Hispanic whites who died in 2014 outpaced the number of white births in 17 states, according to a new analysis from the University of New Hampshire. That’s the largest number of states to experience a natural decrease in the white population in American history.

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Whites experienced natural declines mostly in Northeastern, Western and Southern states, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. White populations grew in most Mountain West states and Great Plains states and by smaller margins in most Rust Belt and Mid-South states.

Natural decline among white populations has been happening for decades in mostly rural areas, especially in states like West Virginia, Pennsylvania, California and Florida. Researchers found more recent natural decreases occurring in more urban areas in states like New Jersey, Arizona and Massachusetts.

And there is little chance that the decreases will reverse: Studies routinely find that once a natural decrease begins, it is unlikely to reverse itself. More states are likely to join the list of white natural decrease in future years, including Vermont, South Carolina, Tennessee and Oregon, where the ratios of white births to deaths have declined precipitously.

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“Natural decrease is the ultimate demographic consequence of population aging, low fertility, and a diminishing proportion of the childbearing-age population,” researchers Rogelio Saenz and Kenneth Johnson wrote. “The rapid rise in the number of U.S. states experiencing white natural decrease reflects the demographic changes underway.”

Nationally, the number of whites born in 2014 is only slightly higher, 2.15 million, than the number of whites who died, 2.06 million. A decade ago, white births outpaced deaths by nearly 400,000 each year. The ratio of white births to deaths fell 79 percent between 1999 and 2014.

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Nationally, the number of white Americans is expected to begin declining in absolute numbers between 2030 and 2040, according to projections from the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2050, whites are expected to make up less than half the U.S. population.

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