Understanding Major Demographic Shifts of Age and Race in the U.S.

Changes to Age Structure and Racial Makeup Foretell Social Change

An interracial couple eat breakfast with their mixed race children, signaling the changes to the racial demographics of the United States.
Eric Audras/Getty Images

In 2014, Pew Research Center released an interactive report titled "The Next America" that reveals the sharp demographic changes in age and racial makeup that are on track to have the U.S. look like an entirely new country by 2060. The report focuses on major shifts in both the age and racial composition of the U.S. population and emphasizes the need for a retooling of Social Security, as the growth in the retired population will put increasing pressure on the decreasing proportion of the population supporting them.

The report also highlights immigration and interracial marriage as causes for the racial diversification of the nation that will mark the end of the white majority in the not so distant future.

An Aging Population Creates a Crisis For Social Security

Historically, the age structure of the U.S., like other societies, has been shaped like a pyramid, with the largest proportion of the population among the youngest, and cohorts decreasing in size as age rises. However, thanks to longer life expectancy and lower overall birth rates, that pyramid is morphing into a rectangle. As a result, by 2060 there will be almost as many people over age 85 as there are under age five.

Every day now, as this major demographic shift takes place, 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 and begin collecting Social Security. This will continue until the year 2030, which puts pressure on the already stressed retirement system.

In 1945, five years after Social Security was created, the ratio of workers to payees was 42:1. In 2010, thanks to our aging population, it was just 3:1. When all Baby Boomers are drawing that benefit the ratio will be reduced to two workers for every one recipient.

This suggests a grim outlook for the possibility of those currently paying the benefits of receiving any when they retire, which suggests that the system needs revamping, and quick.

The End of the White Majority

The U.S. population has been steadily diversifying, in terms of race, since 1960, but today, whites are still the majority, at about 62 percent. The tipping point for this majority will come sometime after 2040, and by 2060, whites will be just 43 percent of the U.S. population. Much of that diversification will come from a growing Hispanic population, and some from growth in the Asian population, while the Black population is expected to maintain a relatively stable percentage.

This marks a significant change for a nation that has historically been dominated by a white majority that holds most power in terms of economy, politics, education, media, and in many other realms of social life. Many believe that the end of the white majority in the U.S. will herald a new era in which systemic and institutional racism no longer reign.

Immigration Drives Racial Diversification

Immigration over the last 50 years has a lot to do with the changing racial makeup of the nation. More than 40 million immigrants have arrived since 1965; half of whom have been Hispanic, and 30 percent Asian. By 2050, the U.S. population will be about 37 percent immigrants—the largest share in its history.

This shift will actually make the U.S. look more like it did at the dawn of the 20th century, in terms of the proportion of immigrants to native-born citizens. One immediate consequence of the uptick in immigration since the 1960s is seen in the racial makeup of the Millennial generation—those currently 20-35 years old—who are the most racially diverse generation in American history, at just 60 percent white.

More Interracial Marriages

Increasing diversification and shifts in attitudes about interracial coupling and marriage are also changing the racial makeup of the nation, and forcing the obsolescence of long-standing racial categories we use to mark difference among us. Showing a sharp increase from just 3 percent in 1960, today 1 in 6 of those getting married is partnering with someone of another race.

Data show that those among Asian and Hispanic populations are more likely to "marry out," while 1 in 6 among Blacks and 1 in 10 among whites do the same.

All of this points to a nation that will look, think, and behave rather differently in the not so distant future, and suggests that major shifts in politics and public policy are on the horizon.

Resistance to Change

While many in the U.S. are pleased by the diversification of the nation, there are many who do not support it. The rise to power of president Donald Trump in 2016 is a clear sign of discord with this change. His popularity among supporters during the primary was largely fueled by his anti-immigrant stance and rhetoric, which resonated with voters who believe that both Donald Trump in 2016 is a clear sign of discord with this change. His popularity among supporters during the primary was largely fueled by his anti-immigrant stance and rhetoric, which resonated with voters who believe that both immigration and racial diversification are bad for the nation. Resistance to these major demographic shifts appears clustered among white people and older Americans, who turned out in a majority to support Trump over Clinton in the November election. Following the election, a ten-day surge in anti-immigrant and racially motivated hate crimes swept the nation, signaling that the transition to the new United States will not be a smooth or harmonious one.