June 10, 2014

For three states, share of Hispanic population returns to the past

Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado Hispanic population return to shares last seen a century agoThe number of Hispanics, the largest minority group in the United States, has increased nearly six-fold since 1970, to 53 million today. But in three states, the rising share of the Hispanic population has returned to levels not seen in more than a century. It’s a story similar to that of the nation’s most recent immigrant boom, which has lifted the share of immigrants in the U.S. to levels last seen a century ago.

In New Mexico and Colorado, the share of the Hispanic population today is higher than it was in 1910, according to Census Bureau data. Arizona’s current share of the Hispanic population is approaching what it was a century ago.  But if you go back even further, in 1870, the share of the Hispanic population was even higher in all three states.

Large Hispanic populations in the southwestern U.S. can be traced to the Spanish exploration and settlement of the area nearly 500 years ago. In the 1500s, Spaniards explored present-day New Mexico, Arizona and parts of Colorado, lands that later became Spanish territories. Mexico took control of these areas in 1821, when it gained independence from Spain. These areas became territories of the United States in 1848 after the Mexican-American War. Statehood arrived later—1876 for Colorado, and 1912 for New Mexico and Arizona.

New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado represent three of seven states where Hispanics make up at least 20% of the population today. In New Mexico, Hispanics today make up 47% of the state’s population while the second largest group, whites, makes up 39%. The last time that Hispanics were the largest population group was in 1900, when the state was 60% Hispanic and 23% white. But by the turn of the 20th century, the share of Hispanics was on the decline. 

By contrast, Colorado’s population has never been majority Hispanic since at least 1860 (the earliest year Census Bureau data is available for the state). But the state’s Hispanic population is trending back toward a peak of 30% reached in 1870. Today, Hispanics make up 21% of Coloradans. (Whites account for 69% of the population today, about the same share as in 1870.)

Arizona is another state where Hispanics once outnumbered whites. In 1870, Arizona was 61% Hispanic and 39% white. The two groups are flipped today (57% white and 30% Hispanic). However, the share of Hispanics has nearly doubled since 1980, when the state was 75% white and 16% Hispanic.

There are four other states where Hispanics today make up at least one-in-five people: California (38%), Texas (38%), Nevada (27%) and Florida (23%). Each has its own demographic story.

In recent years, the share of Hispanics has reached record highs in California, Texas, Nevada and Florida (the remaining four states where Hispanics make up at least 20% of the population). In California, Hispanics were projected to become the biggest racial or ethnic group in March this year (39.0% Hispanic and 38.8% white)—the first time that has ever happened. California joins New Mexico as only the second state where Hispanics are the plurality. Texas could join the list within a decade, possibly in 2023, according to one projection by the state demographer. The Hispanic population in Nevada, meanwhile, has rapidly increased, making up 4% of the state’s population in 1960 and 27% today. Florida has seen a similar rise in its Hispanic population share, from about 3% in 1960 to 23% today.

Topics: Population Geography, Hispanic/Latino Demographics

  1. Photo of Jens Manuel Krogstad

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

  2. Photo of Mark Hugo Lopez

    is director of Hispanic research at Pew Research Center.


  1. John T,2 years ago

    Ugh, yet another article that wrongly believes that Hispanic is a race and that it’s impossible to be Hispanic and white at the same time…

  2. Chris Wiley3 years ago

    This interesting but one must point out that these states had populations in the mere thousands or tens of thousands (and were actually outnumbered by Native Americans) during the 1870s. The current transition is occurring when these states and regions contains tens of millions, so the change is much more thorough and profound. Moreover, we have to be careful what we mean by “return to the past). If we are referring to the 1870s, the US population was 85% white; if we flooded America with tens of millions of European immigrants, would anyone claim that this is ok because its a “return to the past” of the historical white majority? That would be denounced as racist revanchist nonsense. What if millions of Germans and Irish poured into, since they were the two largest ethnic groups during this time, long before mass immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe? What if millions of French arrived into Louisiana and the Midwest, and claimed that they were “returning to the past” since the French were the dominant European ethnic group in this region outnumbering other groups? Why is this then allowed to occur when Latinos are the driver of the change?

    1. Pat Duran2 years ago

      I wonder what cultural changes the US will experience as Hispanics become an ever greater portion of the population. Will Spanish someday become the dominant language, for example? There is, among Hispanics living in this country, two competing impulses: that of acculturation and that of cultural persistence. Which will be the stronger over time?