Projections show rapidly changing U.S. racial makeup

4/18/2014, 12:06 p.m.

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 15 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 3 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.