In around one-third of U.S. states, more white people are now dying than being born — a major shift that is expected to continue and has significant implications for government policy.
Seventeen states — home to 121 million people, or roughly 38 percent of the country’s population — had more deaths than births among non-Hispanic whites in 2014, up from just four states a decade earlier, according to research released Tuesday by the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy.
The trend, which cuts across blue and red states and can be found in both urban and rural areas, is expected to expand to more states in the near future, including Vermont, South Carolina, Tennessee and Oregon, the report said.
White “natural decrease” — when births fail to keep up with deaths — is due largely to the aging of the baby-boom generation and declining white fertility rates, particularly since the Great Recession, the report found.
Nationally, the ratio of non-Hispanic white births to deaths is nearly at par, at 1.04 births for every death. The ratio is much higher for minority groups, particularly among Latinos, whose rate is 5.4 births for every death. The ratio for blacks is 1.94 births for every death, and for Asians, it is 1.75 births.
The influx of immigrants from minority groups, who tend to be in their childbearing years, helps fuel the birthrate.
The findings are particularly trenchant in the wake of an election that was often framed in terms of white Americans feeling threatened by the demographic rise of minority groups. While the country is still about two-thirds white, the proportions are shifting. 2011 was the first year in which more minority babies than white ones were born, and demographers expect the country to become majority minority in 2044.
Its growing young immigrant population puts the United States on a different path than European countries, which are facing a looming crisis because of their aging populations. As aging white Americans rely more on Social Security and Medicare, they are expected to be shored up by the influx of young minorities into the workforce.
“What government and politicians need to pay attention to is that it’s the younger part of the population that’s going to be contributing to the economy,” said Bill Frey, demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “All of the growth in the labor force is going to be racial minorities. Investing in this next generation in terms of their education and being able to contribute to the labor force and pay into Social Security, Medicare, etc. is going to be to the benefit of that older white population.”
Kenneth Johnson, an author of the University of New Hampshire study, agreed but noted that not everyone sees it that way.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be competitive, but, boy, the rhetoric of recent times tells me that that’s the way it certainly has been,” he said.
Despite the rapid shift in the number of states with white natural decrease, the absolute size of the non-Hispanic white population continues to be large in many parts of the United States. The share of the population that is white decreased from 79.6 percent in 1980 to 61.9 percent in 2014, according to the report. The share of the nation that is Latino rose from 6.4 percent to 17.3 percent during the same period. (While Hispanics are considered a minority group in the United States, the term “Hispanic” refers to ethnic origin regardless of race.)
“It is going to be a long time before the white people aren’t a very powerful political force,” Johnson said.
Still, he said, he was struck by the speed and scope of the increase, particularly in highly populated states such as California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Among the 17 states noted in the study, all but two, Maine and West Virginia, are seeing more births overall because of growing nonwhite populations. The Latino population is particularly young, with a median age of 28.4 in 2014, and Latino births exceeded deaths by a large margin in all states and the District of Columbia that year.
Even so, the immigration rate from Mexico has declined since the recession, and so has the Latino birthrate, factors that could slow the decline of whites as a percentage of the total population in some states.
Along with the aging of baby boomers, the change is driven largely by a decline in the number of white women of childbearing age, combined with a decline in the white fertility rate. The number of white women between 15 and 44 decreased by 4.7 million, or 12 percent, in the United States between 2000 and 2014.
The Great Recession also changed the trajectory of the birthrate in the United States, Johnson said, noting that if it had continued as it was going before the downturn, there would be around 3.5 million more children in the country.
It is unclear whether the women who did not have those babies delayed having them or will never have them. If the latter is true, it could accelerate the rate of white natural decrease, whereas an uptick in births could slow it. Either way, nationwide, the number of white deaths is expected to overtake the number of white births by the mid-2020s.
The study also cited an uptick in drug-induced deaths among working-class whites. Such deaths outnumbered motor-vehicle-accident deaths in 41 states in 2014, compared with 10 states in 2004, and could accelerate the transition from natural increase to natural decrease in some states, the study said.