T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E

Dr. Reynolds Farley

Help Site Map Text Only

One America, Initiatives
Presentation to the Race Advisory Board
Dr. Reynolds Farely

Summary Statement

The United States has been undergoing racial change throughout its history but never atthe pace and manner occurring now. Within the next 50 years, whites as a share of the totalpopulation will decline from 75 percent to just over 50 percent. The African-Americanpopulation will increase in size but remain at about 14 percent of the total. Depending uponimmigration trends, intermarriage and racial self-identity; the Hispanic population may increaseto more than one-quarter of the total while Asians may increase from their present 4 percent to 8percent.


When the first census was taken in President Washington's Administration, African-Americans made up 20 percent of the total, a much high proportion than at present. Throughoutthe Nineteenth Century, a long "black belt" made up of predominantly black counties stretchedfrom the suburbs of Washington to east Texas and three states - South Carolina, Mississippi andLouisiana - were majority black in their compositions for more than a century.

Between the Revolutionary War and World War II, the African-American populationgrew slowly compared to the white, largely because one great wave of white immigrants arrivedfrom northern Europe after the potato famine of the 1840s and then a second great wave of whiteimmigrants arrived from southern and eastern Europe after 1880. As a result, African-Americans as a share of the total reached a low point of just 10 percent in 1940.

Figure 1 illustrates the racial composition of the nation at the outset of World War IIwhen blacks and whites together made up 99.5 percent of the total. This figure also shows thepopulation at the start of the Civil Rights decade - 1960. At that time, this was still a country ofwhites and blacks. Because of restrictive immigration laws dating from the Nineteenth Century,there were fewer than one million Asians and the small American Indian population - just one-half a million - lived in rural areas of sparsely populated western states. There was not even acensus question in 1960 identifying Latinos.

We often think of the three crucial civil rights laws of the 1960s: the encompassing CivilRights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of the next year and the Open Housing Act passedafter the killing of Dr. King in Memphis. But there was another civil rights law of that decade,one that is now greatly changing the racial composition of the country.

Representative Cellar and Senator Hart, motivated by the civil rights spirit of that era,wrote the Immigration Reform Act of 1965, a law that overturned the discriminatory provisionsof earlier laws - provisions that kept out Asians and dampened the flow from eastern andsouthern Europe. The sponsors of that 1965 legislation presumed there would be an increased immigration from behind the Iron Curtain but never imagined the new waves now enteringprimarily from Asian and Latin America.

Figure 1 also shows the composition of the population this year. It reflects both therecent immigration to the United States, substantial differences in birth rates and changes in ourdemographic procedures. Racial composition changed in the past and undoubtedly will changein the future because of shifts in the way we gather data and classify individuals.

Through 1960, an enumerator visited every household to report the race of the peoplebeing counted but, since 1970, race has been self-reported so each person now marks his or herown identity and, in the case of children, picks a race for them. These data are not edited so youare what you mark. The rapid growth of the American Indian population is attributable to ourfreedom of choice procedure for identifying race.

The Spanish-origin population is often treated as if it were a racial group therebychallenging old classification schemes. Responding to pressures from Hispanics, PresidentNixon added a special question to the enumeration in 1970, allowing Spanish-origin persons toidentify themselves regardless of their race. In 1977, the Office of Management and Budget(OMB) mandated that all federal agencies gather data about Spanish-origin as well as race. Aprecedent has been firmly established and, according to current plans, the Spanish-origin querywill come before the race question in the Census of 2000. For many Latinos the race questionmay be superfluous since, in the Census of 1990, 43 percent of those who said their origin wasSpanish failed to identify with any of the 14 racial groups listed on the census. They left therace question unanswered.

Current Growth Rates of the Population

Figure 2 shows average annual growth rates of the population by racial group from 1990to 1996 with a distinction for Asians and Hispanics by whether they were born inside or outsidethe country. In this figure, and in subsequent figures, Hispanics are treated as if they were aracial group. That is, I am presenting information for non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacksand non-Hispanic Asians.

The Asian and Hispanic populations are growing much more rapidly than the white,Indian or black populations. The native-born Asian population grew by almost 7 percent eachyear implying a doubling in just over a decade while the foreign-born Latino population isgrowing by almost 5 percent each year. In contrast, the non-Hispanic white population increasedslowly - by only one-half a percent each year.

Projections of the Population to 2050

What will this nation look like in terms of race in 25 or 50 years? Whites as a share ofthe population will decline, blacks will remain at their present share while Asians and Latinoswill increase but the changes depend upon immigration trends, rates of intermarriage and howpeople choose to identify themselves.

Assumptions about Fertility and Family Size

For a population to remain constant in size, there needs to be an average of about 2.1births per woman. At present, birth rates for non-Hispanic whites imply only 1.8 births perwoman so the white population will reach a peak size in about 40 years and then graduallydecline unless there is an unforseen influx of white immigrants or a jump in the birth rate.

Current birth rates of non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic Asians imply about 2.3births per woman - a rate that produces moderate growth. The fertility rates of Hispanic womenare higher suggesting an average of 2.7 children per woman.

In a demographic sense, the Hispanics and Asians are poised for rapid growth because oftheir youthful age structures. That is, compared to whites and blacks, a high proportion ofLatinos and Asians are at childbearing age. Many are young immigrants who came to pursueopportunities in the United States. They will frequently obtain an education or find a job andthen marry and start their families here; thus, the age structure of Latinos and Asians isconducive to rapid growth. Blacks bear their children at a younger age than whites and havehigher birth rates so the black population will grow more rapidly than the white but much moreslowly than the Latino or Asian population.

Hispanics are now the high fertility group but birth rates of first generation immigrantsreflect fertility patterns in countries of origin while, in subsequent generations, birth ratesgenerally move down toward those of the native population; thus, most projections assume areduction in the relatively high birth rates of foreign born Latinos.

Mortality Assumptions

A child born in the United States today, can expect to live 76 years if current death ratespersist. Projections of the population assume that the modest decline in death rates observed inthe 1980s will continue giving us a life span of 82 years at the mid-point of the next century. There are alternative projections that assume either a more rapid fall in mortality or that deathrates rise among men because of AIDS.

Projections reported here assume that by 2050, Asians, whites and Latinos will haveequal death rates but that men will continue to live seven fewer years than women and blacksseven fewer years than other groups.

Immigration Assumptions

Finally, and most important for today's question, is immigration. Racial change isprimarily driven by the composition of our immigration flow. Currently there are about 800,000legal immigrants each year while another 225,000 arrive to stay without documents. In addition,there may be 70,000 citizens returning from residing abroad each year or entering from PuertoRico and other dependencies. This immigration is offset, however, by the emigration of some100,000 to 200,000 citizens - many of them immigrants who return to their countries of origin.

The most common projections of population assume a net immigration of about 850,000persons each year. Both the Census Bureau's projections and those done for the NationalAcademy of Science's Committee on Immigration include a range of assumptions going from anunrealistic low of no immigrants to a high of about 1.7 million immigrants each year. Needlessto say, if you assume a much greater volume of immigration, you project a much larger totalpopulation and much more rapid racial change.

In the early 1990s, Mexico, Russia, China, the Phillippines and the Dominican Republicwere the leading countries of origin for immigrants. In this decade about 45 percent ofimmigrants are Hispanics, about 30 percent Asians and the remainder split between whites andblacks, with whites more numerous than blacks.

The immigration stream is much more diverse than ever before. In the 1980s, 31different nations sent 50,000 or more immigrants. 27 of the 31 were Latin American, Caribbeanor Asian countries. In that decade, for the first time, large numbers came from CentralAmerican nations - El Salvador and Guatemala - and from South America - Peru, Guyana,Ecuador and Brazil. African immigration more than doubled in the 1980s and because of newdiversity provisions in the law, will continue to grow with Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia and SouthAfrica being the leading senders.

The Projected Population

Figure 3 reports the Census Bureau's Middle Series of population projections by race. These imply that the population will grow from 268 million to 323 million in 2020 and to justunder 400 million in 2050. The numbers and composition are very close to the middle seriesreported by the National Academy's Committee on Immigration. The white population maypeak at 210 million about 2030 and then very slowly decline but whites, as a share of the total,will decrease rather rapidly from 73 percent at present to about 53 percent in 2050.

The African-American population will grow from its present 32 million to 54 million- alarge change - but, as a share of the total, there will be almost no shift. Roughly one Americanin eight choose black as his or her race in 1990 and that proportion is not likely to change muchunless there is a dramatic shift in immigration.

The Hispanic population may triple in size by the middle of the next century, assumingthere is a continued flow of immigrants from Latin America and that Hispanic fertility remainshigher than average. If so, one-quarter of the population in 2050 may be Hispanic.

The Asian population will grow even more rapidly than the Latino but will remainsmaller, even smaller than the black population unless immigration changes greatly. Accordingto these projections, Asians - who now make up 4 percent of the population will increase to 6percent in 2020 and 8 percent in 2050.

Social Trends and their Implications for Population Projections

Pervasive social and demographic processes are now underway that call for a cautiousinterpretation of these projections. You are an Advisory Panel on Race and you are serving atthe precise time the meaning and measurement of race are changing quickly.

Three processes - in addition to immigration, fertility and mortality- strongly influencethe future racial composition.

First, there is interracial marriage. Among those who married in their twenties in the1980s, only 3 percent of non-Hispanic white men married women from another group. About 8percent of black men who married did so. But 37 percent of native-born Hispanic men and 47percent of native-born Asian men who married, married women outside their group.

Among women, only 3 percent of white women and only 4 percent of black womenmarried men from another group. But for native-born Hispanic women, 35 percent marriedoutside their group and for Asians, 54 percent. That is, the majority of native born Asianwomen now marry non-Asians. Intermarriage is apparently increasing among all groups but isespecially common among Asians and Hispanics.

Second, because of interracial marriage, there is a bi/multi-racial population with clearpatterns of identity. Using 1990 census data, we can look at the reported race of children andcompare it to the race of their parents. Most children in 1990 - 96 percent were of the same raceas both parents but an increasing number and proportion of children have parents whose racesdiffer. The Census Bureau's projections assume that children in bi/multi-racial marriages willidentify with the race of their mother. But that is not what is happening and, quite soon, we willhave many births occurring to mothers who themselves were born in bi/multi-racial marriages.

A capsule summary would be that:

  • About 39 percent of the children who have one Asian and one non-Asian parent areidentified as Asian. The majority of these children are not identified as Asian.
  • About 40 percent of the children who have one white and one non-white parent are identified as white.
  • About 60 percent of children who have one black and one non-black parent are identified as black.
  • About 65 percent of children who have one Hispanic and one non-Hispanic parent are identified as Hispanic.

Current patterns - and there is no strong reason to think they will continue - lead to blackand Hispanic being reported more than you might expect for children in bi/multi-racialmarriages while Asian and white are reported less frequently than you would expect. Theassumptions that you make about interracial marriages and the identity of the children of suchmarriages have a great deal to do with the projected sizes of the Asian and Latino populations.

Third, there is the issue of the classification of people by race. How will this done? What categories will be used by the statistical system? Can a person claim membership in twoor three races?

In 1990, the Census asked the race question first, then a question about Spanish-originand then a large sample reported their ancestry or national origin. Working with those data, wecan infer that 7 percent of the population gave reports suggesting multi-racial heritage,multiracial that is if you treat Hispanic as if it were a racial group. Specifically:

  • 3.1 million gave white as their race but then reported they were American Indian by ancestry;
  • One-quarter million said they were black by race but gave a European ancestry;
  • 131,000 reported they were white by race but African-American by ancestry;
  • 119,000 were Asian by race but also Spanish in origin; and
  • 107,000 said they were American Indian by race but also Spanish in origin.

Plans for the enumeration of 2000 call for asking the Spanish-origin question first andthen presenting individuals with a list of 13 races. They may be told that they can check allraces that apply. Pre-tests suggests that a small percent - perhaps one to two percent - willidentify with two or more races but we do not know what will happen in the Census. Nor do weknow how many of those who claim a Spanish-origin will fail to answer the race question.


It is a reasonably straightforward task to use current information about birth rates,mortality rates and immigration and make projections assuming that people are born into oneand only one race and retain that identify for their lifetime. Using that procedure, we can predictthat the white population will reach its maximum size about 30 years after the turn of the centuryand, as a fraction of the total, will decrease but the country will likely still be majority white 55years from now. The black population will grow rapidly but its share of the total will not changevery much. The Hispanic and Asian populations will grow rapidly and, by 2050, one-quarter ofthe population may be Hispanic and 8 percent Asian.

Our views of race, of who belongs in which group and whether you can belong to morethan one group have changed greatly throughout our history. Around the turn of the lastcentury, the census devoted effort to counting mulattos, quadroon and octoroons - meaningfulconcepts at that time. The process of changing racial definitions continues with possibly newdevelopments on the horizon attributable to increasing rates of interracial marriage and the newcensus question that may identify a considerable number of Americans who think of themselvesas members of two or more of the racial groups.

President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House
White House for Kids | White House History
White House Tours | Help | Text Only

Privacy Statement

Meeting of The President's Advisory Board on Race

Dr. Reynolds Farley

Dr. Lawrence D. Bobo

Dr. James Jones

Dr. Dovidio's Presentation to the Board

Dr. Derald Wing Sue

Advisory Board Meeting Script