Over the next generation or two, America’s older, largely white population will increasingly be replaced by today’s disproportionately poor minority children. All future growth will come from populations other than non-Hispanic whites as America moves toward a majority-minority society by 2043. This so-called Third Demographic Transition raises important implications about changing racial boundaries in the United States, that is, about the physical, economic, and sociocultural barriers that separate different racial and ethnic groups. America’s racial transformation may place upward demographic pressure on future poverty and inequality as today’s disproportionately poor and minority children grow into adult roles. Racial boundaries will be reshaped by the changing meaning of race and ethnicity, shifting patterns of racial segregation in neighborhoods and the workplace, newly integrating (or not) friendship networks, and changing rates of interracial marriage and childbearing. The empirical literature provides complicated lessons and offers few guarantees that growing racial diversity will lead to a corresponding breakdown in racial boundaries—that whites and minorities will increasingly share the same physical and social spaces or interact as coequals. How America’s older population of elected officials and taxpayers responds today to America’s increasingly diverse population will provide a window to the future, when today’s children successfully transition (or not) into productive adult roles. Racial and ethnic inclusion will be reshaped by changing ethnoracial inequality, which highlights the need to invest in children—now.
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This theme is familiar from previous presidential addresses of the Population Association of America. Samuel Preston (1984) was concerned about the growing economic divide between America’s elderly and children. Sara McLanahan (2004) emphasized the “diverging destinies” of American children and how they are shaped by economic inequality and family diversity. Douglas Massey (1996) highlighted America’s new “age of extremes,” marked by the concentration of poverty and increasing geographic separation of the affluent from the poor.
In some countries, diversity is often framed in terms of religion, but the issues are much the same. Take the example of Israel. There, ultra-orthodox Jews and Arabs exhibit extraordinarily high rates of fertility while secular Jews have below-replacement fertility. Group differences in socioeconomic status, education, and welfare dependence have fueled contentious debates about Israel’s continuing sustainability, political conflict, and sovereignty (Rebhun and Malach 2012).
Current figures mask the full extent of racial and ethnic diversity in America. Racial and ethnic classifications, based on self-identification, are both crude and fluid (Perez and Hirschman 2009). The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) defines “whites” as persons “having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.” It also includes people who listed themselves as Caucasian or self-identified as the Irish, Lebanese, or Egyptian, among others. Some whites enumerated in the 2010 census also claimed other races as part of their racial identity. This is the so-called multiracial population. In 2010, 3.2 % of the white population (alone or in combination with another race) checked another box on the race question or wrote in another race on the census schedule (Hixson et al. 2011). Overall, 2.9 % of the U.S. population listed two or more races in 2010, up from 2.4 % in 2000 (Humes et al. 2011). Such diversity is only the tip of the iceberg; a large but unknown percentage of people who listed only one race are in fact multiracial, especially in the case of African Americans (see Perez and Hirschman 2009). Moreover, growing diversity led the U.S. Census Bureau to translate its 2010 census schedule into 59 different languages for distribution to different population groups across the United States. The Census Bureau also used bilingual (e.g., English/Spanish) forms in some parts of the country.
For example, the generational mix of Hispanics, who have disproportionately high poverty rates, will change dramatically from a population of immigrants to one of native-born Americans, who have much lower rates of poverty (Lichter et al. 2006; Van Hook et al. 2004). As the minority share of the electorate increases, voting power alone may change the political discourse and the nature of public investments.
In 2009, natality statistics from the National Center for Health States revealed 4.1 million births reported to U.S. residents (Martin et al. 2011). Of this total, 2.2 million or 46.4 % of births were to non-Hispanic white women. Of course, these numbers are based on the race and ethnicity of the mother, not the father. NCHS figures undoubtedly underestimate the percentage of minority births. About 5 % of children under age 5 are multiracial.
That racial and ethnic diversity is occurring from the “bottom up” can be demonstrated with the so-called Simpson diversity index. This index gives the probability that two randomly chosen people will be of a different race or ethnicity. My calculations using data on seven ethnoracial groups from the 2010 American Community Survey indicate that diversity among children is much larger (.637) than among working-age adults (.542), especially the elderly (.350). A random draw of two children from America’s population is twice as likely to yield children of different races as of the same race. The opposite pattern exists for America’s elderly.
The ACS is a rolling monthly survey. Births recorded in a particular survey year may have occurred in the year preceding the survey (e.g., mothers interviewed in June 2007 may have borne children between July 2006 and June 2007). ACS births recorded in a particular calendar year therefore do not correspond precisely with the annual data provided through the vital registration system (collected by the National Center for Health Statistics), where births are recorded in the year that they occurred. For a comparison of ACS and NCHS fertility data, see Dye (2010).
This optimistic theme clearly is evident in the titles of several recently published books, including Creating a New Racial Order (Hochschild et al. 2012), The Diversity Paradox: Immigration and the Color Line in 21st Century America (Lee and Bean 2010), Immigrants and Boomers: Forging a New Social Contract for the Future of America (Myers 2007b), Achieving Anew: How New Immigrants Do in American Schools, Jobs, and Neighborhoods (White and Glick 2009), and Blurring the Color Line: The New Chance for a More Integrated America (Alba 2009).
The optimistic inferences we draw from observing the seemingly color-blind associations among our children sometimes ignore ongoing developmental processes. That is, racial identities (and racial attitudes) are not innate but come from social interactions that unfold over time with family members, and with others in schools, neighborhoods, peer groups, and voluntary associations (that are often homogeneous racially) (Raabe and Beelmann 2011).
For example, Taylor and Mateyka (2011), using the General Social Survey, reported that age is associated with more stereotypical beliefs about blacks, less receptivity to sharing social spaces (e.g., living in neighborhoods), negative attributions of poverty (e.g., laziness as opposed to structural conditions), and racial resentment.
Hispanics may be “whitening” along a continuum between whites and blacks at opposite poles, although their placement will be heavily influenced by skin tone (Burton et al. 2010). The racial divide may be changing from white-black to white-nonwhite to black-nonblack, or even to a new tripartite classification in which nonwhite nonblacks occupy a growing middle category (for discussion, see Bonilla-Silva 2002; Lee and Bean 2004). Others claim that Hispanics are being “racialized,” at least for some national-origin groups (e.g., Mexico’s mestizos) and for those with “dark” skin (Telles and Ortiz 2008; Telles and Sue 2009).
Separating opportunity structure from preferences is a difficult task; people—at least some—choose their own opportunities. That is, they choose to live (or not) in racially integrated neighborhoods. This is the endogenous membership problem that makes separating opportunities from preferences an extraordinarily difficult task.
Preferences are not easily separated from structural conditions. Blacks may prefer to live in predominately black neighborhoods precisely because they believe that they are unwelcome in white neighborhoods. The endogenous membership problem—people choose their neighborhoods—makes the study of segregation difficult (Mouw and Entwisle 2006). Not surprisingly, a frequent goal of recent research is to separate opportunity from preference (Wimmer and Lewis 2010).
The Pew study, for example, reported that 63 % of all Americans said they “would be fine” if a family member married outside their race. This high percentage is not being driven by minorities alone. Among whites, the percentage was nearly as high (at 61 %) as the national percentage. Of course, these figures are far in excess of observed rates of intermarriage, which raises questions about the mismatch between attitudes and behavior (Herman and Campbell 2012). Although intermarriage may not be experienced directly, it is often experienced indirectly. Goldstein (1999) showed that roughly 20 % of all Americans have a close relative who is of another race.
Lest we despair, Gunnar Myrdal (1944:51), in An American Dilemma, reminds us that the “children and grandchildren of [previous] unassimilated foreigners are well-adjusted Americans,” despite receiving “their first course in Americanization in the squalid and congested quarters of New York’s East Side and similar surroundings.”
Data from the National Center for Educational Statistics show that 75 % of the full-time college and university faculty (Fall 2009) are white; only 5.4 % and 3.8 %, respectively, are blacks and Hispanics (National Center for Education Statistics 2013:Table 264). Yet, for 2009, data from the Current Population Survey show that 18.4 % of the U.S. population aged 15–24 was black, and 15.5 % was Hispanic. In 2009, only 13.2 % of all doctorates awarded in 2009 went to underrepresented groups (American Indian, black, or Hispanic) (see The Chronicle of Higher Education 2011:B44).
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This article is a revised version of the presidential address presented at the annual meetings of the Population Association of America, May 4, 2012, in San Francisco. The author acknowledges the computing assistance of Scott Sanders and Richard Turner as well as helpful comments from Fenaba Addo, Richard Alba, Linda Burton, William A.V. Clark, Gordon DeJong, Mark Fossett, Samantha Friedman, Matthew Hall, Kenneth Johnson, Kara Joyner, Maria Krysan, Marlene Lee, Dean Lillard, John Logan, Steve Morgan, Kelly Musick, Dowell Myers, Domenico “Mimmo” Parisi, Zhenchao Qian, Marty Farnsworth Richie, Scott Sanders, Sharon Sassler, Stewart Tolnay, Kim Turner, Kim Weeden, Alexander Weinreb, Michael White, and two anonymous reviewers. Of course, the author alone is responsible for the views expressed in this article.
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Lichter, D.T. Integration or Fragmentation? Racial Diversity and the American Future. Demography 50, 359–391 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-013-0197-1