June 4, 2014

Are minority births the majority yet?

Credit: Waltraud Grubitzsch/dpa/Corbis
Credit: Waltraud Grubitzsch/dpa/Corbis

FT_14.06.03_birthsUSTwo years ago, the Census Bureau announced the nation had reached a new demographic tipping point: The share of U.S. babies who were a racial or ethnic minority had edged past the 50% mark for the first time. The finding was widely covered as a dramatic illustration of the agency’s projections that the U.S. will become a majority-minority nation within three decades.

But that tipping point may not have arrived yet, according to preliminary 2013 birth data released last week by the National Center for Health Statistics. The center’s numbers indicate that non-Hispanic white mothers still account for 54% of births—as they had in 2012 and 2011.

The Census Bureau’s initial announcement was that members of minority groups—defined as anyone who is not non-Hispanic white—accounted for 50.4% of the U.S. population younger than age 1 on July 1, 2011. The bureau’s annual population estimates for July 1, 2012, placed the minority share at 50.1%. The agency’s annual population estimate for July 1, 2013, is to be released June 26.

In recent decades, non-Hispanic whites have been a shrinking share of newborns in data produced by both agencies. To some extent, the data discrepancy between them reflects differences in what each agency measures: The Census Bureau classifies the children based on the race and Hispanic origin of both parents, while the National Center for Health Statistics reports only the mother’s race. The two agencies also use somewhat different methods to categorize race. But the bottom line is that people who want to know whether a new era in the nursery has arrived may be scratching their heads wondering which interpretation is correct.

The trend toward a future nation in which non-Hispanic whites are no longer the majority is driven by the relatively faster growth of the nation’s racial and ethnic minority groups, especially Hispanics. Growing shares of U.S. births are to members of minority groups, who tend to be younger, and more likely to be of child-bearing age. In addition, Hispanic and black women (but not Asian-American women) on average have more children than white women.

Immigration plays a role too, because most of the nation’s new immigrants are Hispanic or Asian American. Based on these factors, Census Bureau projections say that by 2043, the nation will have no racial majority group.

Both the Census Bureau and National Center for Health Statistics numbers are based on information in birth certificates from the states and the District of Columbia. However, arriving at an accurate classification of children is a challenge because the certificates have limited information about the parents’ race or Hispanic origin.

For one thing, some birth certificates include only information about the mother, not the father, especially for unmarried mothers. In addition, states do not all use the same racial and ethnic categories on their birth certificates. The biggest source of inconsistency is that six states do not allow parents to check more than one race box to describe themselves, even though this has been an option on census forms since 2000 and a federal policy since 1997. These states—Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, New Jersey and West Virginia—accounted for about 9% of U.S. births in 2013, according to the center.

The impact of mixed-race Americans on the overall population is relatively small: In the 2010 census, 9 million people out of 308.7 million checked multiple races. But it is a group that is disproportionately young and is growing faster than the nation overall.

In order to have consistent data, the National Center for Health Statistics changes mixed-race parents into single-race parents in publishing its birth numbers. To do so, it uses a “race-bridging” protocol worked out with the Census Bureau, in which people who chose multiple races are assigned a single race using a probability-based model derived from research into which category they would have chosen if they were permitted to choose only one race. Among multiple-race Americans counted in the 2000 Census, 53% were changed to white, 24% to black, 15% to Asian or Pacific Islander and 9% to American Indian or Alaska Native. So no births are reported by the center to mixed-race mothers.

However, when the Census Bureau receives birth-certificate data, it uses the same protocol in the other direction, and re-classifies some single-race people into mixed-race people if they live in states that do not allow multiple races to be recorded on birth certificates. Because this method would convert some non-Hispanic white people into people of mixed race, it would add to the count of minorities.

The birth certificate data are a main ingredient the Census Bureau uses to produce the total number of the youngest Americans that are part of its annual population estimates by age, race and gender, published each June for the previous July 1. (It also uses information about deaths and immigration, which have a small impact on the estimates for very young children.).

But because birth data lag the population estimates by more than a year, the bureau has to make adjustments, which is one reason why whether a tipping point has been reached is uncertain. For its July 2012 estimate, released in June 2013, the agency had birth data only through Jan. 1, 2011. So the bureau undertook a complex, multi-stage update process, factoring in population patterns and race boxes checked by families in the 2010 census. It then applies birth rates (as well as death and immigration rates) to produce more current totals.

Topics: Demographics, Birth Rate and Fertility, U.S. Census

  1. Photo of D’Vera Cohn

    is a senior writer/editor focusing on immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.


  1. Dowell Myers3 years ago

    Not surprising that change has slowed down. Everything else has since the Great Recession. Even though the Census Bureau scaled back its projections from this of 2008, the anticipated recovery to “normal” remains long elusive.

    By the way, the term “tipping point” is usually meant to convey accelerated change after a threshold has been crossed, whether that is 50% or 35%. In the US we seem to be teetering on a balance point. We are decelerating, not accelerating. Racial change is continuing gradually, not “tipping.” Happy Fourth!

  2. Stephen3 years ago

    This is interesting data but ignores the reality of race as a construction. During the last ten years, more and more Hispanics are identifying as “white” from “something else.” If one identifies as “white” but their ethnicity is “Hispanic”, can we really say they are a “minority birth”?? Why do we separate Europeans who speak Spanish from others? Who identifies as white will continue to shift, as it has for hundreds of years. After all, the Irish and Italians were certainly not considered white in previous decades. So as long as whiteness is privileged, the category will expand…but not too much.

    1. Andre3 years ago

      I think it has to do that in the USA for the most part “white” is synonymous with looking like someone that could be, so to say, an English native, with the excecptions that you mentioned, but it seems they are often in a grey area, or entirely ignored.
      With “hispanics” its often the problem that no matter how pale they are they are still classified as non-white.

      And just a funny little historical tidbit:
      a few centuries ago, the Japanese were considered white 😉

  3. BCP3 years ago

    If it’s that complicated to figure out what race people are, why don’t we just call everyone an “American” and be satisfied with that. All non native Americans are mixed race. Face it.

    1. slk3 years ago

      since the human race started in africa, we’re all african Americans!!!

    2. axt1133 years ago

      When white people refer to other groups in racially derogatory terms or utilize racial dog whistles in politics (such as Reagan referring to a “strapping young buck”), then race still matters.

  4. slk3 years ago

    just look at the average size family, whites average less the 2 children, black over 4, hispanic 6, and arab over 6!!! eventually, land will be scarce, and people will live on water, just like waterworld!!!

  5. Thiago3 years ago

    What exactly is a Hispanic or non-white Hispanic? These terms are so absurd! Hispanic is NOT a race and never has been (and never will be)! The US is so mired in these racist assumptions! Are Brazilians or those from British Honduras “Hispanic? What about those from the Dutch Antilles or Martinique? Where do they fit in? Hispanic is a a general term used to describe people of Spanish-speaking origins from former Spanish colonies in the Western Hemisphere, i.e. Hispanic is NOT a race, but rather a conglomerate of different Luso-Spanish cultures. Unfortunately the liberals/Left have made a business in dividing Americans into racial groupings in order to gerrymander and garner voters among the presumed “disenfranchised” “minorities” in the US. The Left in the US manufactures racial groups based on 19th century pseudo-science of race and Spanish colonial racial terms (like mestizo/mulatto etc,) , which just shows how far the Left will go to get votes!
    Remember the next time your future employer, University, or census taker asks you what’s your race that the US Constitution does NOT define race in any way shape or form! If you want to say you’re black, but are European born, then do so, YOU can define your race anyway you want!

    1. Lenzy Sociologist3 years ago

      The Census clearly points out that Hispanic is not a race. Hispanic is a large ethnic grouping but not a race. I don’t know how you get that from the U.S. Census or from the above article.

      Now the rest of your post is mired in ultraconservative conspiracy rhetoric that it hurts my eyes to try to read it. If you have any links or reliable data to back up your claims, then perhaps I’ll read it.

      I did LOL at “presumed disenfranchised” though.

      1. WAG12 years ago

        slk, I so agree with your observations regarding the author’s ultra conservative bent in writing her article…too bad she cannot be more objective.

    2. slk3 years ago

      back in the 70’s, when checking race, there was no hispanic box!!! it’s something only a few decades old!!!

  6. lib13 years ago

    I guess we’ll find out June 26. Still, if the number of white births was 50.4% in 2011 and 50.1 in 2012, then based on past projections it would be 49.8% in 2013. I think the mistake being made by media outlets is that there is a major tipping point, when there are several. Non-Hispanic whites make up 62.8% of the population, down from 63.7% in 2010. By 2015, the Census projects whites to make up 61% of the population. This Fall, minority children are predicted to make up the majority of children in grades K-12. This has occurred for sometime in cities across America, only now its spreading nationwide. The tipping point is already occurring.

    1. Conservatron3 years ago

      Yet no one stops to ask if this is a good thing, despite every study done on racial diversity showing that it causes nothing but problems.

      Goodbye America, it was nice knowing you.