Americans’ Generational Race Gap Gets Wider

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By Laura Meckler

Demographic Divide Between Older Whites and Younger Minorities Is Growing, According to Census Bureau Data

The demographic divide between older white Americans and younger minorities grew wider last year, according to Census Bureau data released Thursday, highlighting a long-term shift that might alter the interplay between generations.

In 2013, nearly 79% of people 65 and older were white, but for those younger than 15, the share of whites was just over half. In 2000, those proportions were nearly 84% and almost 61%, respectively.

new censusThe widening generational gap comes as the U.S. population as a whole grows older and more racially diverse. Non-Hispanic whites made up 62.6% of the country last year, down from 63% in 2012, continuing their long-term decline as the dominant American group. More whites died than were born last year, while the share of both Asian-Americans and Hispanics grew.

Hispanic population growth was fueled by an increase in births, as the number immigrating continued to fall. (The Census Bureau makes no distinction between legal and illegal immigration.) Just over half of all babies born in the U.S. were white.


In some states, the generational gap was much larger—particularly in places that keep and attract retirees and are also home to many immigrant families. In Arizona, 82% of people 65 and over were white, while just 41% of those under 15 were white—a 41-point gap—according to calculations by William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who studies these data.

Other states with large generational race gaps include Nevada, New Mexico, California, Texas and Florida.

That creates a potential conflict, Mr. Frey said, between aging white baby boomers and younger minorities, who share few connections. Yet the older generation will depend on these young people to drive the economy and to support social programs for the elderly. The 65-and-over population continues to grow as the baby boomers age, highlighting the challenge for programs such as Social Security and Medicare that will increasingly rely on fewer workers to support more retirees.

“What we are seeing here is just the tip of the iceberg as white baby boomers continue to retire and whites make up ever smaller shares of the child-bearing population,” Mr. Frey said. “It suggests that even greater priority should be given to providing these young minorities education opportunities and other resources to be successful as members of the labor force.”

The number of Hispanic and Asian children grew, but overall, the total number of Americans under 15 dropped 0.6% in 2013.

The changing face of America is most apparent when looking at its youngest residents. Whites account for less than half the population in four states: California, New Mexico, Texas and Hawaii, plus the District of Columbia. But among children under age 5, whites are now below 50% in 15 states—with Alaska joining 14 others in 2013.

Overall, the median age for the U.S. population ticked up to 37.6 years from 37.5 in 2013. But in a few states—North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Oklahoma—the median age fell, driven in part by an oil and gas boom that has attracted new, younger workers, the Census Bureau said.

“We’re seeing the demographic impact of two booms,” Census Bureau Director John Thompson said in a statement. “The population in the Great Plains energy boom states is becoming younger and more male as workers move in seeking employment in the oil and gas industry, while the U.S. as a whole continues to age as the youngest of the baby boom generation enters their 50s.”

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