By 2042, so-called racial minority groups will make up the majority of the U.S. population.
That’s according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest projection. Building on that, the Pew Research Center recently released an extensive study on the shifting demographics of race in our country, showing that within a century (from 1960 to 2060), white Americans will have gone from making up 85 percent of the population to comprising 43 percent.
On the other hand, the number of Hispanic and Black Americans will have grown substantially over that time period, together making up 45 percent of the 2060 population.
Immigration and intermarriage account for much of this change in our country’s racial makeup, and for many, that’s a good thing, forcing us to embrace diversity and reexamine how we categorize race. However, other research suggests that these shifting demographics may cause fear or a tendency to become more conservative on the part of white Americans.
Pew Research Center Numbers
According to the Pew Research Center study, our racial makeup has changed substantially in just the last 50 years.
For instance, from 1960 to 2010, the percentages of Americans identifying themselves as Black, Hispanic, Asian, or “other” increased from just 15 percent of the population to 36 percent of the population:
- Black: Increased from 10 to 12 percent
- Hispanic: Increased from 4 to 15 percent
- Asian: increased from 1 to 5 percent
- “Other”: Increased from 0 to 3 percent
In the next fifteen years, those numbers will jump again, with the Hispanic population in particular increasing to 22 percent; by 2060, Hispanics will comprise 31 percent of the U.S. population.
Immigration and Intermarriage
A significant impetus for these shifting demographics is immigration: since 1965, the U.S. has welcomed 40 million immigrants, with half of those identifying as Hispanic.
Of course, the U.S. has always been a country of newcomers. In the early days of our founding and through the middle of the 20th century, our population consisted of huge numbers of European immigrants.
However, our changing racial makeup is due to a shift in immigrants’ countries of origin: while 88 percent of immigrants in 1900 were from Europe, Europeans only comprise 12 percent of the immigrant population today. Conversely, immigration from Hispanic countries is on the rise, with over 50 percent of all immigrants to the U.S. today hailing from Latin America. So while the Hispanic population in the U.S. has been increasing, the influx of white Americans has been decreasing.
Unsurprisingly, because over a quarter of the entire U.S. population is now made up of immigrants, racial intermarriage is also driving a more diverse population. Just half a century ago, less than three percent of new marriages were between people of different races; today, 15.5 percent of newlyweds come from different racial backgrounds.
That means that not only is our racial makeup changing, but it’s getting more complicated to explain, too.
Adjusting Our Racial Categories
Shifting demographics and intermarriage mean we may need to reexamine how we talk about race.
In the past, the U.S. Census Bureau and other organizations have asked people to define themselves according to checkboxes: “Asian,” “Hispanic,” or “Native American,” for example. However, with the changing faces in the U.S., it’s no longer so easy for many people to simply categorize themselves, nor do they feel they should have to label their race as one thing or another.
Especially for children of racial intermarriage, “identity is a highly nuanced concept, influenced by politics, religion, history, and geography, as well as by how the person believes the answer will be used,” according to National Geographic’s report on increasing racial diversity.
Because there’s no longer a clear divide between black and white in the U.S.—as there was in the 1960s and earlier, for instance—people are beginning to see racial categories as much more fluid and adjustable. Some people have taken to creating new categories altogether: “On playgrounds and college campuses, you’ll find such homespun terms as Blackanese, Filatino, Chicanese, and Korgentinian.”
Possible Racial Divide
So what will those shifting categories mean by 2060, when we have an even more diverse racial makeup in the U.S.?
For some, it’s likely to be a good thing. According to the Pew Research Center’s report, new numbers of racially diverse commercials, celebrities, and terms suggest that “the norms are changing and the stigma [about interracial marriage, in particular] receding.”
On the other hand, researchers from Northwestern University conducted two studies showing that white Americans may feel threatened by the prospect of becoming a racial minority.
According to Slate’s report on the study, psychologists Maureen Craig and Jennifer Richeson gave self-identified politically “independent” white Americans information about the country’s shifting demographics. They then asked a series of questions about national or state-level policies and found that when white Americans were “aware of demographic changes that put them in the minority,” they tended to endorse more conservative political policies.
That has some people worrying that that we’ll see a deepening divide between whites and other racial groups; Slate suggested that the best example of how this demographic fear has (in the past) manifested itself was in slavery and apartheid.
While it’s extreme to think that we would devolve back into policies common to the 19th century, the changing racial makeup will likely test us as a country. But maybe that’s not a bad thing: with more diversity and new challenges, there’s the chance to better ourselves, too.