Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics are Remaking America

Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics are Remaking America

by William H. Frey


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780815732846
Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
Publication date: 07/24/2018
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 332
Sales rank: 287,131
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

William H. Frey is a senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution and research professor in population studies at the University of Michigan. Frey is an internationally recognized demographer with expertise in U.S. demographics, American political demographics, and the U.S. Census. His commentary and observations appear frequently in major print, online, and broadcast media..

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Diversity Explosion

How New Racial Demographics Are Remaking America

By William H. Frey

Brookings Institution Press

Copyright © 2015 The Brookings Institution
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8157-2399-8


A Pivotal Period for Race in America

America reached an important milestone in 2011. That occurred when, for the first time in the history of the country, more minority babies than white babies were born in a year. Soon, most children will be racial minorities: Hispanics, blacks, Asians, and other nonwhite races. And, in about three decades, whites will constitute a minority of all Americans (see figure 1-1). This milestone signals the beginning of a transformation from the mostly white baby boom culture that dominated the nation during the last half of the twentieth century to the more globalized, multiracial country that the United States is becoming.

Certainly in the past, the specter of a "minority white" nation instilled fear among some Americans, and to some extent it continues to do so today—fear of change, fear of losing privileged status, or fear of unwanted groups in their communities. These fears were especially evident during the decades following World War II, when immigration was low and phrases such as "invasion," "blockbusting," and "white flight" were commonly used in the context of black-white segregation. Such fears are evident today in the public backlashes that sometimes occur against more permissive immigration and voter registration laws.

Yet if demography is truly destiny, then these fears of a more racially diverse nation will almost certainly dissipate. In many communities, a broad spectrum of racial groups already is accepted by all, particularly among the highly diverse youth population. Moreover, as this book illustrates, a growing diverse, globally connected minority population will be absolutely necessary to infuse the aging American labor force with vitality and to sustain populations in many parts of the country that are facing population declines. Rather than being feared, America's new diversity—poised to reinvigorate the country at a time when other developed nations are facing advanced aging and population loss—can be celebrated.

The sweep of diversity that has just begun to affect the nation is the theme of this book, which draws from my examination of the most recent U.S. census, census projections, and related sources. As a demographer who has followed U.S. population trends for decades, even I was surprised by the sheer scope of racial change that came to light with the 2010 census. The story that the data tell is not just more of the same. I am convinced that the United States is in the midst of a pivotal period ushering in extraordinary shifts in the nation's racial demographic makeup. If planned for properly, these demographic changes will allow the country to face the future with growth and vitality as it reinvents the classic American melting pot for a new era. In my experiences speaking publicly and answering press inquiries, I have seen the intensity of Americans' questions and thoughts about issues surrounding race. After having absorbed these startling census results and their implications, I wanted to interpret and expound on the dramatic shifts that they illustrate so that a general audience of readers can appreciate their force, promise, and challenges. Key among these changes are

the rapid growth of "new minorities": Hispanics, Asians, and increasingly multiracial populations. During the next 40 years, each of these groups is expected to more than double (see figure 1-2). New minorities have already become the major contributors to U.S. population gains. These new minorities—the products of recent immigration waves as well as the growing U.S.–born generations—contributed to more than three-quarters of the nation's population growth in the last decade. That trend will accelerate in the future.

the sharply diminished growth and rapid aging of America's white population. Due to white low immigration, reduced fertility, and aging, the white population grew a tepid 1.2 percent in 2000–10.

In roughly 10 years, the white population will begin a decline that will continue into the future. This decline will be most prominent among the younger populations. At the same time, the existing white population will age rapidly, as the large baby boom generation advances into seniorhood.

black economic advances and migration reversals. Now, more than a half-century after the civil rights movement began, a recognizable segment of blacks has entered the middle class while simultaneously reversing historic population shifts. The long-standing Great Migration of blacks out of the South has now turned into a wholesale evacuation from the North—to largely prosperous southern locales. Blacks are abandoning cities for the suburbs, and black neighborhood segregation continues to decline. Although many blacks still suffer the effects of inequality and segregation is far from gone, the economic and residential environments for blacks have improved well beyond the highly discriminatory, ghettoized life that most experienced for much of the twentieth century.

the shift toward a nation in which no racial group is the majority. The shift toward "no majority" communities is already taking place as the constellation of racial minorities expands. In 2010, 22 of the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas were minority white, up from just 14 in 2000 and 5 in 1990. Sometime after 2040, there will be no racial majority in the country. This is hardly the America that large numbers of today's older and middle-aged adults grew up with in their neighborhoods, workplaces, and civic lives. One implication of these shifts will be larger multiracial populations as multiracial marriages become far more commonplace.

The "diversity explosion" the country is now experiencing will bring significant changes in the attitudes of individuals, the practices of institutions, and the nature of American politics. Racial change has never been easy, and more often than not it has been fraught with fear and conflict. Yet for most of the nation's history, nonwhite racial groups have been a small minority. Partly because of that, blacks and other racial minorities were historically subjected to blatant discrimination, whether through Jim Crow laws, the Asian Exclusion Act, or any of the many other measures that denied racial minorities access to jobs, education, housing, financial resources, and basic rights of civic participation.

What will be different going forward is the sheer size of the minority population in the United States. It is arriving "just in time" as the aging white population begins to decline, bringing with it needed manpower and brain power and taking up residence in otherwise stagnating city and suburban housing markets. Although whites are still considered the mainstream in the United States, that perception should eventually shift as more minority members assume positions of responsibility, exert more political clout, exercise their strength as consumers, and demonstrate their value in the labor force. As they become integral to the nation's success, their concerns will be taken seriously.


Change will not come without challenges. In fact, a big part of the impending clashes related to race will have demographic roots because of how diversity spreads across the country—both generationally and geographically.

Diversity by Generation, "From the Bottom Up"

If nothing else, the diversity explosion is generational in character. New minority growth is bubbling up the age structure, from young to old. Today, this growth is most visible among America's children. This has to do, in part, with the more youthful population of Hispanics, the nation's largest minority group. Due to recent waves of Hispanic immigrants who were younger than the total population and to their somewhat higher fertility, Hispanics are decidedly younger than the population at large. This relative youthfulness, with many adults in peak childbearing ages, ensures continued sizable contributions to births, irrespective of future immigration. Asians, the second-largest new minority, also contribute to population gains among youth. In addition, the still tiny multiracial population, with a median age of just around 20 years, has the greatest potential for growth.

Nonetheless, the aging of the white population is a primary reason why racial churning is beginning at younger ages. During the first decade of the 2000s, the number of white youth in the United States already had declined as more individuals passed the age of 18 than were born. The white decline is projected to continue not only among children but eventually among younger adults and then middle-aged adults, as smaller white generations follow larger ones. Barring unanticipated increases in white immigration, the long-term scenario for whites is one of lower fertility and increased aging. This means that the younger population will lead the way toward the nation's diversity surge. This diversity is already ubiquitous in schools, on playgrounds, and in other civic arenas that young people inhabit. Diversity means that new minorities, including Hispanic and Asian children whose parents or grandparents came from different nations and speak different languages, will become classmates, dating partners, and lifelong friends with younger generations of established minorities and whites.

Yet this youth-driven diversity surge is also creating a "cultural generation gap" between the diverse youth population and the growing, older, still predominantly white population. This gap is reflected in negative attitudes among many older whites toward immigration, new minority growth, and big government programs that cater to the real economic and educational needs of America's younger, more diverse population. It has shown up in politics, among other places, as was evident in the demographic voting patterns in the 2012 election of Barack Obama. The gap is not a result of racist attitudes per se. It reflects the social distance between minority youth and an older population that does not feel a personal connection with young adults and children who are not "their" children and grandchildren.

Yet the future well-being of seniors and the nation as a whole depends on the ability of today's youth to succeed in tomorrow's labor force. Youth will play a central role in contributing to the nation's economy and to the retirement and medical care programs that directly benefit the older population. The financial solvency of those programs will be particularly challenging because the mostly white senior population will continue to swell as it absorbs the large baby boom generation (see figure 1-3). Attitudinal changes will occur but may take some time, as the long-held views of the baby boomers, who grew up in a highly segregated, low immigration, post–World War II America, slowly adapt to these inevitable generational shifts.

Diversity Dispersal "From the Melting Pot Out"

As the diversity surge spreads from younger to older generations, a parallel geographic spread of new minorities is occurring from traditional Melting Pot regions to the rest of the country. This trend is distinct from those of the 1980s and early 1990s, when Hispanic and Asian growth was heavily concentrated in large immigrant gateways like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, and Houston. Those largely immigrant minorities were content to cluster inside the traditional gateways within communities of the same race and language, where they could rely on friendship and family connections for social and economic support. At the same time, most mainstream domestic migrants, primarily whites, were moving to the economically ascendant interior West and Southeast—portions of the country that might be termed the New Sun Belt (shown in figure 1-4). Being more footloose than the new minorities, these migrants followed growing employment opportunities in places such as Atlanta and Phoenix.

Those separate migration flows—to Melting Pot areas by new immigrant minorities and to New Sun Belt areas by mostly white domestic migrants—seemed to portend a regional demographic balkanization. The scenario painted was one in which the Melting Pot regions would remain racially distinct from other growing parts of the country in much the same way that cities once were racially distinct from their growing suburbs. Such a division would have extremely adverse implications for racial integration nationally, not to mention for politics. Adding further support to that prediction was the fact that whites were moving away from the major immigrant magnets, suggesting a flight from diversity, even though the move had more to do with the availability of jobs in the New Sun Belt and high housing costs in large coastal areas.

Fortunately, the predicted balkanization proved temporary. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, new minorities began to follow the broad-based migration flows to the New Sun Belt for many of the same reasons as white domestic migrants. Hispanics and Asians dispersed not only to New Sun Belt states but also to the Heartland region of the country—defined here as slow-growing portions of the nation's interior and New England—in response to jobs in low- and high-skilled industries. Like whites and blacks, they wished to escape higher costs of living in many immigrant gateways, and in the process, they began to form new same-race communities away from the Melting Pot areas.

Yet as they disperse to new destinations, Hispanics, Asians, and other new minorities are not always welcomed with open arms. Although they are filling important niches in the economy by taking jobs in construction, services, and software engineering and are, especially in the Heartland, providing a much-needed increase in population, they also are standing on the front lines of racial integration. White backlash is common in places where the cultural generation gap is most evident and where the growth of young new minorities is most rapid. Still, this ongoing dispersal of new minorities can lead to a softening of the rigid racial and political divisions that I feared would develop as separated migration patterns were taking shape in the 1980s. The integration and assimilation of new minorities across the country will occur unevenly, but the pattern is showing no sign of letting up.


It is probably fair to say that there is no definitive classification of race in the United States. Racial categories are neither completely biologically nor scientifically determined. They have a history of being constructed in ways that play into national politics and stereotypes, and they are constantly in need of revision. That said, the categories used in the recent U.S. census and by other government agencies maintain important social and legal distinctions and have more recently come to characterize a renewed pride in the cultural identity of the groups represented. For this reason, this book uses a racial classification that is broadly, though not completely, consistent with that used in the 2010 U.S. census, in which Americans self-reported their race.

The racial classification used here differs from census and federal guidelines that treat Hispanic origin as an item separate from race—that is, that ask census respondents separate questions about their Hispanic origin and their race. Instead, this book treats Hispanic origin as a racial category. As a result, other racial categories—including whites, blacks, Asians, and American Indians or Alaska Natives—pertain to non Hispanic members of those groups. This approach permits establishing a set of mutually exclusive racial categories in which Hispanic origin is one of the categories. It also is broadly consistent with common use of race labels in national surveys, media reporting, and everyday parlance, wherein, in standard usage, "whites" or "Anglos" refers to non-Hispanic whites.

In focusing on Hispanics in chapter 4 and Asians in chapter 5, I discuss the origins of these groups in more detail (distinguishing, for example, between Mexicans and Cubans or Asian Indians and Chinese). In some parts of the book, due to data restrictions, alterations to these definitions are made and noted. In response to the growth of the multiracial population in the United States, an important innovation was introduced in the 2000 and 2010 censuses that permits respondents to identify with two or more races. However, because the official census definition does not consider Hispanic origin as a race, the "two or more race" population is probably considerably larger than the one reported in the censuses. I discuss the latter undercount more fully in chapter 10, along with the possibility that federal agencies will adopt Hispanics as a separate category, on par with other racial categories, as is done in this book.


Excerpted from Diversity Explosion by William H. Frey. Copyright © 2015 The Brookings Institution. Excerpted by permission of Brookings Institution Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents



1. A Pivotal Period for Race in America

2. Old versus Young: The Cultural Generation Gap

3. America's New Racial Map

4. Hispanics Fan Out: Who Goes Where?

5. Asians in America: The Newest Minority Surge

6. The Great Migration of Blacks, In Reverse

7. White Population Shifts: A Zero-Sum Game

8. Melting Pot Cities and Suburbs

9. Neighborhood Segregation: Toward a New Racial Paradigm

10. Multiracial Marriages and Multiracial America

11. Race and Politics: The Cultural Generation Gap in Presidential Elections

12. America on the Cusp




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Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics Are Remaking America 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
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