What America Will Look Like Decades From Now

A Census report explores demographic shifts set to take place.
by | March 4, 2015

America might not resemble the country’s current demographics very much several decades from now.

The majority of Americans will be of a racial or ethnic minority. Retirees and children will make up a larger share of the total population. The foreign born, too, will likely see their numbers multiply significantly.

A Census Bureau report published this week explores these and other issues, projecting national population estimates for various demographic groups through 2060. The following summary highlights a few of the more notable demographic shifts set to take place in the coming years.

Non-Working Age Population Set to Climb

Multiple demographic trends over the next several decades will result in a larger share of Americans dependent on a working-age population that is expected to shrink in size relative to the rest of the country.

The aging of baby boomers is the primary driver of this demographic shift. The first boomers began turning age 65 in 2011, and they’ll all reach this mark by 2030.

This is particularly evident in the Census Bureau’s projections for the 45 to 64 age group. The cohort's population total should change little until 2020, then it will actually decline slightly through 2030. By comparison, all other age groups are expected to experience population growth over the decade.

Further adding to the future burden for the working-age population is that fertility rates have declined, resulting in slower growth among children. Life expectancy is also expected to increase.

One way the Census Bureau measures the dependent population is to compute a dependency ratio, comparing the working-age population (those age 18 to 64) to numbers of younger and older Americans.

The chart below illustrates the Census Bureau’s national dependency ratio projections. The old age dependency ratio will climb significantly through about 2030 before continuing to increase, albeit at a slower rate. Meanwhile, the youth dependency ratio is expected to change little, declining slightly over the next 50 years.

By 2060, the Census Bureau projects there will be 76 dependent-age Americans for every 100 people aged 18 to 64.

Growth of the Foreign Born 

The number of foreign-born Americans will continue to swell in the coming years as well.

The Census Bureau projects that the foreign-born population will climb nearly 20 percent between 2010 and 2020, while the native population will increase just 6 percent. Although this segment of the population will continue to expand quicker than natives, its growth rate will taper somewhat over the next several decades. The foreign born population is expected to grow 11 percent between 2040 and 2050, and just 8 percent from 2050 to 2060.

Foreign born women are also expected to make a large contribution to the nation’s overall population growth. They will give birth to 40 million newborns between 2014 and 2060, or about 20 percent of all births over the time period, according to Census estimates.

The Census Bureau based projections on historical trends for migration, fertility and mortality. Changes to federal immigration policy could push these estimates up or down.

While it’s difficult to say just how many non-natives will migrate to the country, it’s clear that they’ll definitely account for a larger share of the population. The foreign born population made up an estimated 13.3 percent of the total in 2014, a figure that’s projected to rise to 18.8 percent by 2060.

Changing Racial, Ethnic Populations

It’s only a matter of time before the nation becomes majority minority.

Non-Hispanic whites still account for the majority of the population – about 62 percent as of 2014. This share is expected to continue to diminish, reaching the tipping point of below 50 percent in 2044, according to Census projections. By 2060, racial and ethnic minorities will make up 56 percent of the total population.

Given the changing racial makeup, it’s not particularly surprising that Americans of two or more races represent the fastest-growing demographic group. About 8 million Americans currently identify themselves as being of two or more races, or just 2.5 percent of the population. The Census Bureau projects this figure to jump to 26 million by 2060.

The Asian American population is also set to grow rapidly. This demographic group’s share of the total population is expected to increase from 5.4 percent to 9.3 percent by 2060.

At the state level, minority population growth has played out differently and will continue to do so. A report published last month by the American Enterprise Institute, Brookings Institution and Center for American Progress examines this issue further, projecting the racial makeup of each state.

Only four states – California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Texas – are currently majority minority. Within the next five years, Maryland and Nevada will join them. By 2060, an estimated two-thirds of Americans will live in a state that is majority minority, according to the report.

Changing Demographics Among Children

The majority of babies born in the U.S. are already minorities, a milestone the country reached back in 2011. Soon, they’ll also account for the majority of all children. The Census Bureau reports that minorities make up 48 percent of the under-18 population, a figure set to exceed 64 percent by 2060.

Multiracial, Asian and Hispanic children represent the fastest-growing segments of the under-18 population.

However, overall growth for children will still lag behind the rest of the nation. Demographers expect fertility rates to continue to decline, while net international migration and life expectancy should increase further.