The USA is bigger, older, more Hispanic and Asian and less wedded to marriage and traditional families than it was in 1990. It also is less enamored of kids, more embracing of several generations living under one roof, more inclusive of same-sex couples, more cognizant of multiracial identities, more suburban, less rural and leaning more to the South and West.
Results of the 2010 Census have been pouring out all year, an avalanche of statistics detailing the population characteristics of states, counties and cities. But the Census represents more than just a current snapshot.
The end of the first decade of the 21st century marks a turning point in the nation’s social, cultural, geographic, racial and ethnic fabric. It’s a shift so profound that it reveals an America that seemed unlikely a mere 20 years ago — one that will influence the nation for years to come in everything from who is elected to run the country, states and cities to what type of houses will be built and where.
INTERACTIVE: Census numbers from your state, town
The metamorphosis over just two decades stuns even demographers and social observers.
“It was always predicted that we would be diverse, but it’s happened faster than anyone predicted,” says Cheryl Russell, former editor in chief of American Demographics magazine, now editorial director of New Strategist Publications, publisher of reference tools. “Diversity and the rapid growth in diversity is one of the reasons we have a black president today. That’s one thing that would never have been predicted.”
2010 photo by Todd Plitt for USA TODAY
Marketers can customize sales pitches for more age niches now as groups such as “tweens,” “starting adults” and “oldest old” have found their way onto the life-stages continuum.
The black-white racial dynamics that have dominated much of the nation’s history have been scrambled by the explosive growth of Hispanics. In most southern states where the black-white legacy has deep roots, Hispanics have accounted for most of the population gains during the past decade.
“An entire Venezuela’s worth of Hispanics was added in just those two decades,” says Robert Lang, an urban sociologist at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. That’s about 30 million, or half of the nation’s growth since 1990.
“Everything about America now has to do with diversity that we could hardly recognize in 1990,” says William Frey, demographer at the Brookings Institution. The change will be felt for years to come as whites and blacks age and young Hispanics dominate in more places.
“By 2050, Americans will look back at the controversies around immigration, controversies about diversity and wonder what the big deal was,” Lang says.
The starkest evidence of the cultural revolution the nation has undergone in two decades lies in the first government reporting of same-sex households.
“That is huge,” Russell says. “Usually, attitudinal change occurs as one generation replaces another” but this happened faster.
“In 1990, people were still thinking of family as what you saw on TV sitcoms,” Frey says — mainly mom and dad and two kids. “It still stuck in people’s minds as the norm.”
The facts behind the new norm:
The traditional nuclear family — one or two adults and their young children — continues to ebb. In its place, a grab bag of alternatives has appeared or begun growing after decades of decline:
•Among families. Various forms of three generations under one roof; adult children returning to their parents’ home, sometimes with a spouse and their own children or both; blended families that include stepparents or stepchildren; and extended families that include a parent, a child, cousins and others, related or not.
•Among unrelated people. A wide variety of living arrangements have flourished among all ages: unmarried partner couples, both same-sex or opposite sex, sometimes with their own or related children or adult roommates.
•Living solo. The share of one-person households continues to grow, up from 25% in 1990 to 27%. The recession has slowed the trend by forcing some young adults to live with parents or roommates. But as Baby Boomers flood into their empty-nesting years and beyond, the trend could accelerate. In many Western European countries, more than one-third of households consist of just one person.
•Multigenerational households. At the other end of the spectrum, a growing share of homes includes more than one generation of a family. The average household size has stopped shrinking and begun to grow for the first time in a half-century, partly buoyed by the influx of immigrant famlies.
Immigrants are more likely to have young children and live with siblings, parents or other relatives. By one broad definition, 16% of U.S. households are multigenerational (two or more), up from 14% in 1990, according to the Pew Research Center. The Census defines multigenerational as three or more generations of the same family. In 2010, they made up 4% of households.
•Fewer kids. Only one-third of households now have children, and the share of households that have kids under age 18 dropped in 95% of counties, changing the flavor of neighborhoods in cities and suburbs.
The opposite is happening in areas populated predominantly by immigrants. The 1.9 million-person gain in the under-18 population since 2000 was fueled completely by racial and ethnic minorities. Hispanic fertility is at 2.9 births per woman, much higher than the national average of 2.1.
At 24%, the proportion of residents who are 18 and under is at an all-time low, according to the Population Reference Bureau. It was 25.6% in 1990. Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C., lost 10% or more of their child populations just in the last decade.
Having children increasingly has become detached from marriage. The share of births by unmarried women has risen from 26% to 41% since 1990 and could be headed higher. Among Hispanics, it’s 53%; among blacks, it’s 73%. In several European countries, half to two-thirds of all children are born to unmarried women.
One of the most significant demographic trends of the past 20 years is the explosive growth of Hispanics. Now at 50 million — almost one in six Americans — Hispanics have more than doubled their numbers in 1990.
The Hispanic boom has spread far beyond traditional immigrant gateways such as California and Florida, altering the American landscape in states such as Kansas and North Carolina.
Just more than 1% of North Carolina 6.6 million residents were Hispanic in 1990. In 2010: Almost 7% of 9.5 million people were.
Asians grew at a similarly rapid rate but they still account for a small share of the population (4.7%). Since 2000, more Asians were added (4.3 million) to the population than blacks (3.7 million).
Hispanics surpassed blacks in 2003. African Americans’ presence in some traditional strongholds is shrinking. They are leaving cities and heading for the suburbs or returning to the South.
Fifty-seven percent of the USA’s blacks live in the South, the highest since 1960. Some are retirees settling in Florida and North Carolina; others are professionals lured by thriving metropolitan areas in Texas and Georgia.
Most of Chicago’s population declines since 2000 were due to a loss of more than 181,000 black residents. There were declines in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Dallas and Atlanta. The black population in Washington, D.C., is slipping below 50%.
The USA’s racial and ethnic balance has been further upset by the growing number of Americans who claim more than one race.
The change happened in 2000, when the government first allowed people to pick two or more races on Census forms. The 9 million who did make up almost 2% of the population, up from 1.6% in 2000.
One in seven new marriages include spouses of different racial or ethnic backgrounds, according to the Population Reference Bureau. In 2010, 5.6% of children under age 18 reported two or more races compared with 2.1% of adults.
The Census projects that less than half of the U.S. population will be white and not Hispanic by 2042 — a moving target that will be influenced by future immigration and fertility patterns.
Gender roles have been redefined.
One of the biggest changes is the delay and eclipse of marriage. Half of women who marry wait until 26 to do so, up from 24 in 1990. For men, half don’t marry until they are older than 28, up from 26.
Part of the delay may stem from higher education levels. Women have made such giant leaps that they now dominate men at every level of higher education in earning degrees. The most recent Department of Education statistics show that 51% of doctoral degrees went to women in 2007-08, up from 42% in just 10 years.
“For a lot of women, marriage is a disadvantage,” Russell says. “Women would end up supporting the men.”
The educational gender gap is widening, but men’s life expectancy, still lagging women’s, is rising at a faster rate.
Since 1990, life expectancy for men who make it to retirement has grown at almost three times the rate that it has for women, according to preliminary 2009 data from the National Center on Health Statistics.
A 65-year-old man today is expected to live another 17.3 years, women 20 years — up 15% for men and just 6% for women.
In 1990, a 65-year-old man was expected to live an extra 15.1 years and women 18.9.
The same is happening for those who reach the age of 75: Men’s life expectancy has gained 14%, women’s 4%.
Much of the gain for men is the result of lower lung cancer rates (men smoked more before the anti-smoking crusade began a generation ago) and better heart disease treatment and prevention.
Men have shown steady annual gains of 0.2 years in life expectancy in recent years while the rate for women gained less or stayed flat.
Where we live
•The pull of suburbia did not let up despite an urban renaissance fueled by empty nesters and the young and childless. More than half of Americans — about 158 million — are suburbanites. In 1990, just over 48% were. In just 20 years, almost 40 million more people lived in suburbs.
•Rural areas continued their decline, their population remaining stagnant over 20 years at 50 million. Rural residents now make up only 16% of total population, down from 20% in 1990.
“Remote rural counties grew the least and the outer suburbs of large metro areas grew the most during the 20-year period,” says Kenneth Johnson, demographer at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute. “In rural areas, farm counties grew the least and retirement counties grew the most.”
•The nation is tipping south and west. The allure of Sun Belt states such as California and Florida was in full bloom 20 years ago, but no one saw the population explosion that hit states throughout the region, from North Carolina to Nevada.
“We knew people were moving to the Sun Belt but we didn’t know people were moving to the interior part of the Sun Belt,” Frey says. “This time, California didn’t even gain a seat in Congress but Nevada, Arizona and Utah all gained seats. These are the new pioneering areas of the U.S.”
At the same time, growth slowed in the Northeast and Midwest, where less than 40% of the U.S. population lives now compared with more than 44% in 1990. More than 37% now live in the South and 23% in the West. For the first time, more people live in the West than the Midwest. Twenty years ago, the West first surpassed the Northeast.
“It’s not something we would have foreseen, this emptying out of the industrial Midwest,” Frey says. “This decade has made that much more permanent, much more dramatic.”
•Because of suburbanization, cities that were mere specks on the map 20 years ago are major urban centers today. Frisco, Texas, for example, a northern suburb of Dallas, was a hamlet of 6,141 in 1990. In 2010: 116,989.
“It’s the newest city in America with more than 100,000 people,” says Lang, who coined the term “boomburbs.”
Life stages for Americans
Tweens? twentysomethings? Young professionals? Oldest old?
Partly because of longevity, largely because of economic and cultural influences, life stages are stretching far beyond the five traditional categories — kids, teens, young adults, middle-aged and old. That gives marketers more sales pitches to customize for age niches.
Children go from being children to the in-between stage of tweenhood that precedes teenage years. Young adults, staying in college longer and many moving back home after they graduate, are in a new stage of delayed adulthood.
“It’s partly the extension of childhood to about age 30 at this point,” Russell says. “Because of education, the time it takes to establish a career and marry, people are about 30. That’s when, interestingly, voting rates rise.”
In 2010, 24 million adult children lived at home, she says, many of them because they can’t find jobs or can’t afford housing.
“That’s one of the surprises,” Russell says. “Who knew in 1990, when boomers were young adults, that they would be so family-oriented? … First, they were family-oriented by choice and now it’s by necessity.”
People are living longer and older people are working longer, creating new degrees of aging.
The 85-plus population climbed from about 3 million in 1990 (1.2% of the population), to 5.5 million — 1.8% —in 2010.
“We didn’t appreciate how old the white population would get in 20 years,” Frey says, and how diverse the younger population would get. “The future is people of all races and ethnicities.”