March 31, 2016

10 demographic trends that are shaping the U.S. and the world

At its core, demography is the act of counting people. But it’s also important to study the forces that are driving population change, and measure how these changes have an impact on people’s lives. For example, how does immigration affect U.S. population growth? Do Americans feel that children are better off with a parent at home, in an era when most women work? How is the rise of the young-adult Millennial generation contributing to the rise of Americans with no stated religion? For this year’s Population Association of America (PAA) annual meeting, here is a roundup of some of Pew Research Center’s recent demography-related findings that tell us how America and the world are changing.

1Americans are more racially and ethnically diverse than in the past, and the U.S. is projected to be even more diverse in the coming decades. By 2055, the U.S. will not have a single racial or ethnic majority. Much of this change has been (and will be) driven by immigration. Nearly 59 million immigrants have arrived in the U.S. in the past 50 years, mostly from Latin America and Asia. Today, a near-record 14% of the country’s population is foreign born compared with just 5% in 1965. Over the next five decades, the majority of U.S. population growth is projected to be linked to new Asian and Hispanic immigration. American attitudes about immigration and diversity are supportive of these changes for the most part. More Americans say immigrants strengthen the country than say they burden it, and most say the U.S.’s increasing ethnic diversity makes it a better place to live.

2U.S. ImmigrantsAsia has replaced Latin America (including Mexico) as the biggest source of new immigrants to the U.S. In a reversal of one of the largest mass migrations in modern history, net migration flows from Mexico to the U.S. turned negative between 2009 and 2014, as more Mexicans went home than arrived in the U.S. And after rising steadily since 1990, the unauthorized immigrant population has leveled off in recent years, falling to 11.3 million in 2014 from a high of 12.2 million in 2007. Meanwhile, Asians are now the only major racial or ethnic group whose numbers are rising mainly because of immigration. And while African immigrants make up a small share of the U.S. immigrant population, their numbers are also growing steadily – roughly doubling every decade since 1970.

3America’s demographic changes are shifting the electorate – and American politics. The 2016 electorate will be the most diverse in U.S. history due to strong growth among Hispanic eligible voters, particularly U.S.-born youth. There are also wide gaps opening up between the generations on many social and political issues. Young adult Millennials are much more likely than their elders to hold liberal views on many political and social issues, though they are also less likely to identify with either political party: 50% call themselves political independents.

4Millennials, young adults born after 1980, are the new generation to watch. They have likely surpassed Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) as the largest U.S. generation and differ significantly from their elders in many ways. They are the most racially diverse generation in American history: 43% of Millennial adults are non-white, the highest share of any generation. And while they are on track to be the most educated generation to date, this achievement has come at a cost: Many Millennials are struggling with student debt. In addition to the weak labor market of recent years, student debt is perhaps one reason why many are still living at home. Despite these troubles, Millennials are the most upbeat about their financial future: More than eight-in-ten say they either currently have enough money to lead the lives they want or expect to in the future.

5Women’s role in the labor force and leadership positions has grown dramatically. The labor force participation rate for American women has risen steadily since the 1960s. In fact, mothers were the sole or primary breadwinner in a record 40% of all households with children in 2011. The gender pay gap has narrowed over this period of time, especially for young women just entering the labor force, but it still persists. As more women have entered the workforce, the share of women in top leadership jobs has risen, but they still make up a small share of the nation’s political and business leaders relative to men. Why the continued disparity? While Americans say women are every bit as capable of being good leaders as men, four-in-ten believe they are held to higher standards than men and that the U.S. is just not ready to put more women in top leadership positions.

6The American family is changing. After decades of declining marriage rates, the share of American adults who have never been married is at an historic high. Two-parent households are on the decline in the U.S., while divorce, remarriage and cohabitation are on the rise. About one-in-six American kids now live in a blended family. And the roles of mothers and fathers are converging, due in part to the rise of breadwinner moms. Dads are doing more housework and child care, while moms are doing more paid work outside the home. Americans are conflicted about some aspects of this change: While nearly half of two-parent households have a mom and dad who both work full time, 51% of Americans say children are better off with a mother at home.

7The share of Americans who live in middle class households is shrinking. The share of U.S. adults living in middle-income households fell to 50% in 2015, after more than four decades in which those households served as the nation’s economic majority. And the financial gaps between middle- and upper-income Americans have widened, with upper-income households holding 49% of U.S. aggregate household income (up from 29% in 1970) and seven times as much wealth as middle-income households (up from three times as much in 1983). Most Americans say the government doesn’t do enough to help the middle class, and neither political party is widely viewed as a champion for middle-class interests.

Middle-income households in U.S.

8Christians are declining as a share of the U.S. population, and the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion has grown. While the U.S. remains home to more Christians than any other country, the percentage of Americans identifying as Christian dropped from 78% in 2007 to 71% in 2014. By contrast, the religiously unaffiliated have surged seven percentage points in that time span to make up 23% of U.S. adults last year. This trend has been driven in large part by Millennials, 35% of whom are religious “nones.” The rise of the “nones” is not a story unique to the U.S.: The unaffiliated are now the second-largest religious group in 48% of the world’s nations. Americans are well aware of this shift: 72% say religion’s influence on public life is waning, and most who say this see it as a bad thing.

9The world’s religious makeup will look a lot different by 2050: Over the next four decades, Christians will remain the largest religious group, but Islam will grow faster than any other major religion, mostly because Muslims are younger and have more children than any other religious group globally. By 2050, the number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians. In the U.S., the Muslim population will remain small, but is projected to grow rapidly.

10The world is aging. The demographic future for the U.S. and the world looks very different than the recent past. Growth from 1950 to 2010 was rapid — the global population nearly tripled, and the U.S. population doubled. However, population growth from 2010 to 2050 is projected to be significantly slower and is expected to tilt strongly to the oldest age groups, both globally and in the U.S. Public opinion on whether the growing number of older people is a problem varies dramatically around the world. Concern is highest in East Asia where large majorities describe aging as a major problem for their countries.

Topics: Immigration, Demographics, Economics and Personal Finances, Income, Immigration Trends, Family and Relationships, Race and Ethnicity, Generations and Age, Family Roles, Parenthood, Population Trends, Religious Affiliation, Voter Demographics, African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Demographics, Population Projections, 2016 Election

  1. Photo of D’Vera Cohn

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

  2. Photo of Andrea Caumont

    is the social media editor at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous1 year ago

    I love America and its diversity. This data is amazing. America will continue to be the most important nation in world in this century. Dr Gupta

  2. Larry Bradley1 year ago

    Curious as to why no one ever considers abortion as a factor in the demographic mix of the United States. Since 1973, there have been roughly 50 million abortions. Statisticians, demographers and actuaries can give us the real impact, but for arguments sake let’s say that babies aborted in 1973 (A-73) would themselves be having babies by at least 2000, and the babies born to them (B-00) would start having their own babies (C-27) by at least 2027. In 2015, there would have been an additional population of 20,930,232 people over the age of 25 if abortion had not been legalized. During that same time frame, based on an average of 1,000,000 per year and estimating that 1 in 4 was over the age of 25 when he came to this country, at least 4.5 MM people over the age of 25 were added to the population. So, our population of people over the age of 25 is short by roughly 16 MM, subtracting immigrants from aborted babies. Again, these stats might need tweaking, but my point is that abortion has had a profound affect on the demographics of the United States, including, but certainly not limited to elections, but no one seems willing to discuss that aspect of abortion. Maybe the PEW Center will consider doing this?

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      The abortion rate doesn’t mean those women don’t go on to have children at a later time when they can afford to give that child a better future.

  3. Gary Schark1 year ago

    There is a lot of interesting info here. Check out @2, For one thing, it makes clear that from 2009 to 2014, there was net negative immigration from Mexico to the U.S. It sort of makes Trump’s claims about Mexico and the need to build a wall to keep Mexicans out ridiculous.

    1. Anonymous1 year ago


      1. David Lloyd-Jones1 year ago

        They work. They pay payroll taxes. They don’t collect Social Security.

        It’s obvious: a wall to keep them in is the long term solution to all America’s budget worries.


        1. Anonymous1 year ago

          That is a dangerously simplistic view of how to deal with the countries budget issues. A better solution would be to actually make people and corporations that don’t pay taxes actually pay them. They are the ones that amass the most significant numbers in actual dollar amounts over the relatively slave labor rates migrant workers contribute. Just some friendly advice, know what you are talking about before you start typing.

    2. Anonymous1 year ago

      Only rediculous if you are OK with the drugs and criminals coming over, much to our ruin. BTW.. there was negative immigration from Mexico because our ruined economy could no longer provide jobs for them (or us for that matter). What do you think happens when our businesses close down or move elsewhere ?

  4. Anonymous1 year ago

    At some point, the racist left, which includes Pew and the Democratic Party, is going to be forced to stop declaring Hispanics “non white”. Over half of all Hispanics in the US are white, according to their own answers on the Census.

    The left is telling white Hispanics “You’re not white! Now shut up and listen to what we tell you!”.

    Ted Cruz is white. Marco Rubio is white. And so on. Intermarriage between non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics is common, and the children of those marriages rarely call themselves Hispanic.

    Secondarily, these are all straight line projections based on “static analysis”, which presumes that everything will continue forward exactly as it has in the recent past, forever. Hispanic immigration and birth rates have dropped substantially in recent years.

    Simply put, this is wishful thinking on behalf of the Democratic Party, combined with racism that denies white Hispanics are white. It is completely unacceptable.

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      Hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race. They can be black or white, or whatever else they designate themselves to be. This has nothing to do with being a Democrat or racist. This is about getting a little knowledge about the subject.

  5. Anonymous1 year ago

    We have been destroying our Country from within for decades. We’ve been to accommodating to immigrants as well as liberal rhetoric. How sad to throw our decency and heritage out the window for power and money.

  6. Anonymous1 year ago

    It still blows my mind that Asian’s are the largest immigration group. I live in North Carolina, and there seems like there are more Latinos here, some places are like a little Mexico w/ stores, restaurants, churches that all speak Spanish, and don’t really care for others to visit. I seen a huge Arab/Indian increase too. It’s really a problem, that I don’t think anyone’s going to fix.

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      FYI Indians are Asians too.

      1. Ken Dine1 year ago

        Anonymous • (6 days ago)
        “FYI Indians are Asians too.”

        American Indians are classified as Asians, but not necessarily the inhabitants of India.

        The demographics that make up India (or sub-continental Asia) is genetically diverse. Nevertheless, when forced to put Indians into a particular category of the different major race types (i.e., Asian, Caucasian, Australoid, or African), Indians are usually put into the Caucasian category since they are closer to Caucasoids than they are to any of those other groups, so they usually go into that category by default.

        In addition to similar hair type, skull shape and facial features (etc), Indians and (most) Europeans also share a common root language (PIE: Proto-Indo-European):…

        In criminal forensics, the FBI categorizes an Indian’s hair as “Caucasoid” (European) and not Asian due to the cross-section shape of their hair:

        Caucasoid (European)

        Hairs of Caucasoid or Caucasian origin can be of fine to medium coarseness, are generally straight or wavy in appearance, and exhibit colors ranging from blonde to brown to black. The hair shafts of Caucasian hairs vary from round to oval in cross section and have fine to medium-sized, evenly distributed pigment granules.

        Mongoloid (Asian)

        Hairs of Mongoloid or Asian origin are regularly coarse, straight, and circular in cross section, with a wider diameter than the hairs of the other racial groups. The outer layer of the hair, the cuticle, is usually significantly thicker than the cuticle of Negroid and Caucasian hairs, and the medulla, or central canal, is continuous and wide. The hair shaft, or cortex, of Mongoloid hair contains pigment granules that are generally larger in size than the pigment granules of Caucasian hairs and which often appear to be grouped in patchy areas within the shaft. Mongoloid hair can have a characteristic reddish appearance as a product of its pigment.…

    2. Anonymous1 year ago

      Why is it a problem?

    3. Anonymous1 year ago

      why problem??????

  7. Anonymous1 year ago

    #7 Should include income ranges for each category. What exactly is “middle income” which can vary greatly depending on location?

    1. Andrea Caumont1 year ago

      Hello, Our report defined “middle-income” households as those with an income that is 67% to 200% (two-thirds to double) of the overall median household income, after incomes have been adjusted for household size.

      This chart shows what that means in dollar terms in the U.S., by household size:

  8. Anonymous1 year ago

    It would be very helpful, indeed, if you (i.e. whoever did the research) would learn that an ethnicity, such as Hispanic, is NOT a race. Most Hispanics in the U.S. are by race caucasian.

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      It states clearly under the graph that any race can identify as Hispanic ethnically and the graph demonstrates what percent of the population identifies themselves as Hispanic independently of race. Section one pretty clearly delineates between racial and ethnic categories.

    2. Anonymous1 year ago

      If the English language wins, hispanic/white will go away like Irish/Italian did three decades ago in the North East. The differences there have become are as trivial as restaurant menu designs. I can barely see a difference between hispanic/not now until a conversation or a soccer game starts.

      Appearance emphasizes differences. How can the darkest and lightest to not notice, and how can noticing not lead to assuming. Inevitable.

  9. Reinhard Joelli1 year ago

    Great summary of key demo trends. One comment possibly for future updates. I think it would be clearer to focus on either US or global picture. The mix (first 8 US, last 2 global) can be a bit tricky for readers. Thanks. RJ

  10. Larry Johnson1 year ago

    I’ve noticed a sharp rise in the number of Muslims I encounter here in Atlanta, so I suspect the estimates for the metro Muslim population are low of the mark. It’s far from scientific, largely based on the number of women I see wearing hijabs, and the number of people I know who openly identify as Muslim, but twenty years ago I only knew a few Muslims and almost never saw women in hijabs. Now my interaction is frequent and routine.

    My observations may not have much meaning. Young Muslim women, who might have avoided the attention of a hajib in the past, seem much more willing to wear it as a sign of identity with their religion. It could also be a trend only in Atlanta.

    But I suspect that my observation is due to sharply rising Muslim population.

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      I suspect that living in a major Urban setting is why you see the increases you describe. Until recently I lived in Houston, where I observed what you describe. Now I live in a rural community in N. California, and have not seen a woman wearing a hajib in months. I suspect that Muslim families are here but keep a low profile because of the intolerant views of people who have never gotten to know Muslim people well.

    2. Anonymous1 year ago

      Take some time to learn about data collection and statistics and why our everyday experience doesn’t jibe with tedoius but neceassry reseach efforts.