William H. Frey is a demographer with an eye for the big population trends reshaping America. He was the first person to predict that more racial minorities than whites would be born across the country in 2011.
His latest book, Diversity Explosion, predicts how seismic shifts in immigration, migration, aging and birthrates are going to transform the U.S. into a "majority-minority nation." Frey's findings have consequences for everything from segregation patterns to politics, and it's all going to happen rather quickly.
In about 30 years — Frey hasn't pinpointed an exact year, but has determined that it will happen after 2040 — white people will cease to constitute a majority of the national population. The U.S. will no longer be a country with a racial majority, as this chart from Diversity Explosion shows:
The rise of the "new minorities": In the coming three to four decades, the white population will see low immigration and birth rates and begin to decline. On the other hand, what Frey deems "the new minorities" — Asians, Hispanics and multiracial Americans — will experience significant growth. African-Americans are expected to have relatively modest increases. Projected growth for these groups through 2050 can be seen on the right-hand chart below:
The Asian and Hispanic populations will double, not only because of past and future immigration patterns but because those immigrant populations are going to strike ideal childbearing years. Frey expects that Asian and Hispanic communities are also going to continue to spread beyond "immigrant gateways" like New York, Los Angeles and Houston into the interior West and Southeast, as can be seen in the maps below:
The other part of the new minorities, multiracial populations, are going to increase even more. They have risen steadily in accordance with the increasing cultural acceptability of multiracial marriage over the course of the past half-century:
The New Great Migration: Frey predicts that the coming decades will bring about a reversal of what may be the most important population shift in 20th century America: The Great Migration. Over the course of the middle of the 20th century, around 6 million African-Americans uprooted themselves from the rural South and moved into cities across the urban North.
African-Americans are now moving from cities to the suburbs, and the South has once again become a more desirable destination. This process of upheaval is contributing to a slow but fairly steady decline in segregation levels across the country, which Frey expects to carry on into the future:
A new polity: Demographic shifts will play a serious role in changing the electoral map, the most important one of which is the Hispanic population boom. Frey predicts that by 2028, Hispanics will make up nearly a fifth of the electorate, and whites will be reduced to just over 60% of it:
Is this a good thing? Frey is sanguine about the diversity explosion. Reflecting on the phenomenon from a utilitarian perspective, he sees the growth of minority populations to be a timely demographic shift as the white population ages and begins to shrink. He believes a more colorful and hopefully less segregated country will keep up the invention and energy needed to keep America enterprising in the 21st century.
Equally interesting should be the evolution of America's racial politics. From its very birth, the United States has been defined by the use of racial difference as an instrument for political and economic exclusion and exploitation. Racial minorities have always been subject to the anxieties of a powerful majority. But what will happen when everyone is a minority? How will white America react to a situation in which there is an increasing incongruence between their numbers and their power?
How the next chapter of America's racial history turns out is anyone's guess. But it should certainly be beautiful, if National Geographic's stunning estimation of what the "average American" will look like in 2050 is any indication.
Charts reprinted with permission from 'Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics are Remaking America' by William H. Frey (Brookings Press, 2014).