U.S. whites will soon be the minority in number, but not power

Whites are now the numerical minority in a half dozen states, and they will be the nation’s numerical minority in a little more than 25 years. And now, for the first time ever, there are fewer white than nonwhite children under 10 years of age.

This is a significant change. The U.S. population has been predominantly white since the founding of Jamestown in 1607. As late as 1950, whites accounted for about 90 percent of the nation’s population, according to U.S. Census figures. But in the past six decades, whites’ share of the overall population has dropped to 61 percent. Demographic projections suggest that whites will become the numerical minority in 2044, when the nation will become a majority-minority country.

In certain places this is already underway. Hawaii and the District of Columbia became majority-minority in 1980, California and New Mexico in 2000, Texas in 2004, and Nevada last year. The white share of Nevada’s population plunged from 83.2 percent in 1980 to 49.9 percent in 2016. Eight other states where whites now account for under 60 percent of the population will likely become majority-minority states in the next 10 to 15 years. Of these, Maryland is expected to be the next majority-minority state with whites constituting 51.5 percent of its population in 2016.

Nonwhites are drivers of the demography of the national and state populations. For example, nonwhites accounted for nearly 96 percent of the 14.4 million people added to the U.S. population between 2010 and 2016. Latinos were responsible for close to half of the national growth. The white population rose by just over 650,000 during the six-year period, making up only about 4 percent of the increase. In Maryland, the white population declined by close to 67,000 between 2010 and 2016 while the nonwhite population rose by nearly 310,000.

The varying rates at which the white and nonwhite populations are growing reflect basic demography — births, deaths and immigration.

White women average 1.7 births over their lifetimes compared to Latina women, who average 2.2. Women from other racial groups have fertility rates in between. Thus, white women have fewer children than women from other groups.

The fertility gap is widened due to age differences. For example, the median age of whites is 43 compared to 29 for Latinos. Furthermore, 62 percent of Latina women 15 and older are in the ages in which females are the most likely to give birth (15-44) compared to slightly less than 42 percent of white women.

Mortality differences are also quite significant. Death rates enigmatically tend to be lower for Latinos compared to whites, what demographers call the “epidemiological paradox.” Due to their older population, many more whites die than do nonwhites. Indeed, 78 percent of all deaths that occurred in the country in 2015 were white. In 2014, there were more white deaths than white births in 17 U.S. states including California, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Arizona and Massachusetts.

There are also significant differences between whites and nonwhites in the number of immigrants in the country. Of the 43.3 million foreign-born people residing in the United States in 2015, 82 percent originated from Latin America and Asia. Only 11 percent hailed from Europe.

The varying rates of births, deaths and immigration between whites and nonwhites will result in the United States becoming a majority-minority country in the coming decades. In less than a century, the share of whites in the nation’s population is expected to fall from approximately 90 percent in 1950 to less than 50 percent in the mid-2040s.

Reflecting these trends, many whites claim that they are now or will soon become a minority group. This is only true in the numeric sense. Whites will continue to be the majority in terms of wealth, power and prestige. Whites have amassed large amounts of wealth and other resources that will not become depleted with their declining population counts. While increasing numbers will translate into some political gains among people of color, the white political machinery is already in motion deploying political tactics, such as gerrymandering and voter ID laws, to minimize the political power of groups of color. In South Africa, while whites are the numerical minority, they continue being the dominant group politically and economically.

Still, with increasing racial diversity and intermarriage in the United States, the meaning of race and the boundaries used to define who is white may be altered in the future.

Dudley L. Poston Jr. (d-poston@tamu.edu) is a professor of sociology and the George T. and Gladys H. Abell Professor of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University. Rogelio Sáenz (rogelio.saenz@utsa.edu) is dean of the College of Public Policy and the Mark G. Yudof Endowed Chair at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

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