William H. Frey, Brookings Institution, June 23, 2021
As we await the final 2020 census statistics for America’s race and ethnic populations (due later this summer), newly released Census Bureau estimates compiled independently of the 2020 census suggest something unprecedented: The 2010s could be the first decade when the nation’s white population registered an absolute loss.
These new estimates show annual population changes by race and ethnicity between July 2010 and July 2020. They indicate that, for each year since 2016, the nation’s white population dropped in size. Thus, all of U.S. population growth from 2016 to 2020 comes from gains in people of color.
These statistics extend and update a trend revealed in data published last year, and further emphasize why the diversity profile of the U.S. population is rising rapidly. This is especially the case for the nation’s younger population, which experienced the greatest white population losses. The statistics also imply that, as the white population ages and declines further, racial and ethnic diversity will be the hallmark demographic feature of America’s younger generations, including Gen Z and those that follow.
Earlier population estimates have shown that the 2010s decade—especially its later years—was one of historically low population growth. This was the result of declining fertility, increased mortality, and a slowdown in immigration from abroad. The former two trends are especially characteristic of the nation’s white population, who are aging more rapidly than other groups.
As Figure 1 shows, annual white population losses over the four years between 2016-17 and 2019-20 were 129,000; 252,000; 290,000; and 482,000. Together, this loss of more than 1 million white people outweighs the white population gains of the decade’s six earlier years, leading to a likely first-ever decade decline of the nation’s white population when the final 2020 census results are tallied (Download Table A).
In contrast, nonwhite race and ethnic groups increased in size over each year of the decade, and were responsible for all of the nation’s population growth between 2016 and 2020. Latino or Hispanic Americans led all groups, with annual gains at or approaching 1 million a year. Asian Americans added between 300,000 to over 500,000 to their population each year, followed by Black Americans, persons identifying as two or more races, and American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Like the population as a whole, the positive gains for each of these groups dropped off somewhat in recent years. Even so, the large growth for people of color, as a group, reduced the white share of the total population from 63.8% to 59.7% between July 2010 and July 2020. The 2020 census is likely to show, for the first time, that more than four in 10 Americans identify with groups of color.
On a state level, 30 states lost white population over the 2016-2020 period (Download Table B). The greatest losses were registered by California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, where white out-migration accentuated the decline. Among the 20 states that gained white population over this period were those in growing parts of the South and West, including Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas, and Idaho.
The relative sizes in the numbers of births and deaths for different race and ethnic groups accounts for some of the difference in their respective population gains. Figure 3 shows how these different groups fared in the size of natural increase (defined as the number of births minus the number of deaths) over the first nine years of the last decade.
Here, the white population stands out due to its negative value on this measure—meaning it experienced more deaths than birth, or natural decrease (Download Table C). This reflects, in part, the white population’s older age structure compared to other groups, leading to more deaths and fewer births. The latter is due to a proportionately smaller share of its population in childbearing ages as well as lower actual fertility rates among white women compared to the rest of the population.
The other demographic component that favors nonwhite over white groups is immigration. Over the 2010-to-2019 period, Latino or Hispanic and Asian groups registered substantially higher levels of immigration than white people, contributing to their overall growth. Still, it should be noted that among all nonwhite groups except Asian Americans, immigration contributes less to their growth than natural increase. Among Latino or Hispanic people, gains from natural increase were more than three times those of immigration.