Within the next three decades, the Census Bureau estimates that minorities will outnumber whites in America. We already reached a number of milestones along the way: There are now more minority babies than white babies being born in America and more minority children than white children attending public schools.
The latest reminder of America’s demographic destiny came last week when researchers at the University of New Hampshire pointed out that an unprecedented 17 states recorded more white deaths than white births in 2014. As this map from the report shows, these states are a geographically diverse bunch — between Connecticut, Alabama, California and Delaware, nearly all of the regions of the nation are represented.
Fifteen years ago, only four states — Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Florida — were members of this club. Since then, the white non-Hispanic population has aged. As the researchers note, half of the nation’s whites are now older than 43, up from 39 in 2000.
Aging affects the balance between life and death in two ways. First, of course, elderly people are more likely to die. We can expect white mortality to spike as the baby boomers, a huge cohort of mostly white adults, reach their sunset years. Second, an older population means fewer women of childbearing age. Although the white fertility rate has remained more or less the same since 1989, the number of white mothers is declining.
The scatterplot below shows how these 17 states got there where they are today. All of them had declines in the annual number of births between 1999 and 2014. Many of them also saw increases in the number of white deaths. In Arizona, for instance, white deaths were up more than 20 percent in 2014 compared with 1999. But in other states, such as California and Massachusetts, annual deaths decreased — it’s just that the number of births decreased even more.
Demographers have made it clear that this trend will continue. In fact, white deaths have already started to outnumber white births nationwide since 2013, according to census data.
The next state to flip will probably be either Oregon, Tennessee or South Carolina, where the margins between white births and white deaths are razor thin. In Oregon, for instance, there were only 570 more white births than white deaths during 2014, the latest year that the CDC has data for. (And even that number overestimates the number of white births, because the CDC classifies babies according to the race and ethnicity of the mother, which overlooks the growing trend of interracial and interethnic couples in America.)
It’s tempting to connect some of these developments to the other ailments of white America. Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton have shown that middle-aged whites have been dying slightly faster over the past decade, a startling trend that they blame in part on increasing drug overdoses, alcoholism and suicide. On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that life expectancy for Americans declined between 2014 and 2015, a pattern driven largely by increasing white death rates.
But changes in mortality rates are only a small part of the picture. Hispanics and nonwhites are simply younger — half of Hispanics in America are still under the age of 27 — and more likely to have babies.
A major strategy of Donald Trump’s campaign for president was to amplify anxieties about America’s multiethnic future. As a recent survey showed, simply reminding white people that America will soon become a majority-minority nation makes them more likely to support Trump, who won many supporters with his promises to banish immigrants and build a towering border wall.
But there’s little that Trump could do to alter the nation’s fate. Immigration may have started America on the path to diversity, but it is too late to turn back now. Pew estimates that between 2000 and 2010, there were nearly twice as many Hispanic babies born in the United States than there were new Hispanic immigrants. America’s next generation is already here, and it is already growing up to be more diverse than ever.
To get a glimpse of the future, just look at the nation’s toddlers. Among children younger than 5, minorities already outnumber whites in the United States as of 2015. These children are not evenly distributed — they mostly live in the coastal states or in the Southwest.
But more and more, they will become the image of the typical American.