Dudley Poston and Rogelio Sáenz
Since the settlement of Jamestown in 1607 and the start of the Colonial period, the U.S. has been predominantly white.
But the white share of the U.S. population has been dropping, from a little under 90 percent in 1950 to 60 percent in 2018. It will likely drop below 50 percent in another 25 years.
White nationalists want America to be white again. But this will never happen. America is on its way to becoming predominantly nonwhite.
Who is white?
The U.S. federal government uses two questions to measure a person’s race and ethnicity. One asks if the person is of Hispanic origin, and the other asks about the person’s race.
Whites were not the first people to settle in what is now the U.S. The first immigrants were a people known today as American Indians and Alaskan natives, also commonly referred to as Native Americans. They arrived in North America around 14,000 years ago.
When Christopher Columbus arrived in America in 1492, there were around 10 million American Indians living in the lands north of Mexico. But by the 1800s their numbers had dwindled to about 1 million. They are now the smallest race group in the U.S.
The first sizable stream of immigrants to what is now the U.S. were whites from England. Their arrival at Plymouth in 1620 in search of religious freedom marked the start of large waves of whites coming to this land.
When the U.S. was established as a country in 1776, whites comprised roughly 80 percent of the population. The white share rose to 90 percent in 1920, where it stayed until 1950.
The proportion of whites in the U.S. population started to decline in 1950. It fell to gradually over the years, eventually reaching just over 60 percent in 2018 – the lowest percentage ever recorded.
Although the majority of the U.S. population today is still white, nonwhites account for more than half of the populations of Hawaii, the District of Columbia, California, New Mexico, Texas, and Nevada. And, in the next 10 to 15 years, these half dozen “majority-minority” states will likely be joined by as many as eight other states where whites now make up less than 60 percent of the population.
Census Bureau projections show that the U.S. population will be “majority-minority” sometime between 2040 and 2050. Our research suggests that this will happen around 2044. Indeed, in 2020, there are projected to be more nonwhite children than white children in the U.S.
The nonwhite population is growing more rapidly than the white population. Minorities accounted for 92 percent of the U.S. population growth between 2010 and 2018, with Latinos comprising just under half of the nation’s overall growth.
Behind the trends
Why are the numbers of white people declining, and why are nonwhite numbers increasing? The answer is basic demography: births, deaths, and immigration.
White women have an average of 1.7 children over their lifetimes, while Latina women average 2.2. The total fertility rates of blacks, Asians and American Indians are in between. So whites have fewer births than all nonwhite groups.
There are also big differences in age structure. Sixty-two percent of Latinas 15 years of age or older are of childbearing age. Only 42 percent of white women fall into this group. Latinos also have lower mortality rates than whites. Demographers call this the “epidemiological paradox.”
In 2015, for the first time, there were more white deaths in the U.S. than white births. Indeed, as of 2016, in 26 states, whites were dying faster than they were being born. The states with more white deaths than white births include California, Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
How about immigration to the U.S.? Of the more than 43 million foreign-born people living in the U.S. in 2015, 82 percent originated in Latin America and Asia. Only 11 percent were born in Europe. So whites don’t increase their representation in the U.S. via immigration.
The future of whiteness
The aging white population, alongside a more youthful minority population, especially in the case of Latinos, will result in the U.S. becoming a majority-minority country in around 2044.
The demographic shift in the U.S. has resulted in many whites proclaiming that they are losing their country, and that they already are or will soon become a minority group.
In her research on working-class whites in rural Louisiana, sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild observes that many whites feel frustrated and betrayed, like they are now strangers in their own land. In Trump, they saw a white man who brought them together to take their country back. Hochschild points out that at a Trump campaign rally, whites held signs with slogans such as “TRUMP: MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” and “SILENT MAJORITY STANDS WITH TRUMP.”
The decline of the white share of the U.S. population could result in the shifting of racial boundaries to assign whiteness to some people of color so as to bolster the white numbers.
This has happened before. Groups that were initially seen as very different from whites, such as the Irish and Italians, once sought to distance themselves from blacks, and eventually were accepted as white.
In addition, although persons of Mexican origin largely identified racially as white, in the 1930 census “Mexican” was used as a racial category, at a time when there was heightened hostility against Mexicans due to their growing population size and the Great Depression.
But any future changes cannot override demography. The U.S. will never be a white country again.
Dudley Poston is an emeritus professor of sociology at Texas A&M University. He has been a sociology and demography professor for almost 50 years. He has served on the faculties of the University of Texas at Austin, Cornell University, and, since 1992, Texas A&M University. Poston is a demographer and conduct research in several areas, including the demography of race and ethnicity, international migration, and the demography of sexual minorities. In much of his research, he pays special attention to the political and social implications of the results and their trends. At Texas A&M, he taught undergraduate classes in demography and graduate classes in statistics, demographic methods, and demography.
Rogelio Sáenz is Professor in the Department of Demography at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is also a Policy Fellow of the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire. Sáenz has written extensively in the areas of demography, Latina/os, race and ethnic relations, inequality, immigration, public policy, social justice, and human rights. He is co-author of Latinos in the United States: Diversity and Change (Polity Press) and Latino Issues: A Reference Handbook (ABC-CLIO Press); he is also co-editor of The International Handbook of the Demography of Race and Ethnicity (Springer Press) as well as Latina/os in the United States: Changing the Face of América (Springer Press). Sáenz regularly writes op-ed essays on current demographic, social, racial, economic, and political issues with his contributions appearing in such newspapers as the Austin American-Statesman, Baltimore Sun, Dallas Morning News, El Paso Times, Houston Chronicle, New York Times, OpEdProject, Rio Grande Guardian, San Antonio Express-News, and the San Diego Union-Tribune. In 2018, the American Association for Access, Equity, and Diversity presented Sáenz its Cesar Estrada Chavez Award, an honor that recognizes an individual who has demonstrated leadership in support of workers’ rights and humanitarian issues. In addition, he also was recently recognized as a 2018 Top Latino Leaders by the National Diversity Council.
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Note: originally published at theconversation.com; re-published with permission.