Deaths now outnumber births among white people in more than half the states in the country, demographers have found, signaling what could be a faster-than-expected transition to a future in which whites are no longer a majority of the U.S. population.
The Census Bureau has projected that whites could drop below 50 percent of the population around 2045, a relatively slow-moving change that has been years in the making. But a new report this week found that whites are dying faster than they are being born now in 26 states, up from 17 just two years earlier, and demographers say that shift might come even sooner.
“It’s happening a lot faster than we thought,” said Rogelio Sáenz, a demographer at the University of Texas at San Antonio and a co-author of the report. It examines the period from 1999 to 2016 using data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the federal agency that tracks births and deaths.
The pattern first started nearly two decades ago in a handful of states with aging white populations like Pennsylvania and West Virginia. But fertility rates dropped drastically after the Great Recession and mortality rates for whites who are not of Hispanic origin have been rising, driven partly by drug overdoses. That has put demographic change on a faster track. The list of states where white deaths outnumber births now includes North Carolina and Ohio.
The change has broad implications for identity and for the country’s political and economic life, transforming a mostly white baby boomer society into a multiethnic and racial patchwork. A majority of the youngest Americans are already nonwhite and look less like older generations than at any point in modern U.S. history. In California, 52 percent of all children are living in homes with at least one immigrant parent, Sáenz said.
Deaths began to exceed births for whites countrywide in 2016, according to the report. But in many states, as in Florida, white people moving in made up for the losses.
However, in 17 states, including California, Michigan, New Jersey and Ohio, those migrants weren’t enough and the white populations declined between 2015 and 2016, said Kenneth M. Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire and the report’s other author. Five of those states registered drops in their total populations that year: Vermont, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and Connecticut.