Why white Americans are dying faster than they are being born

A boy carries a U.S. flag in the barrel of his 20-gauge shotgun before an Independence Day parade in Westcliffe, Colo. on Friday, July 4, 2014.
A boy carries a U.S. flag in the barrel of his 20-gauge shotgun before an Independence Day parade in Westcliffe, Colo. on Friday, July 4, 2014. AP Photo/The Gazette, Michael Ciaglo

The population of white Americans is on the decline for the first time in its history, according to an analysis of birth and death rates in the United States from 1999 to 2016.

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The demographic shift is being driven by an aging cohort of white baby boomers who are beginning to die out, along with an across-the-board drop in fertility rates in the wake of the Great Recession in 2008. However, the U.S. is still growing overall thanks to a booming population of Latinos.

That’s according to a data brief by demographers Rogelio Saenz and Kenneth M. Johnson, who released their analysis through the University of Wisconsin’s Applied Population Lab. The original data was provided by the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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“In 10 years, we’re probably going to have much, much more of a diverse population,” Saenz told Global News on Thursday.

The data brief shows white Americans in 2016 were dying faster than they were being born in 26 states, which comprise roughly 56 per cent of the overall U.S. population.

Only four states showed a net decline in the white population in 1999.

“The dynamic of the change is primarily birth and death,” Saenz said, adding that white immigration doesn’t have much of an impact on the change.

According to the data, 1.21 white children were being born for every white person who died in 2000 — a minor net positive in the birth rate.

Those numbers reversed for the first time in history in 2016, when they dipped to 0.98 births per death.

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Despite the dip in the white birth-to-death ratio, Saenz says the United States will continue to see a net population increase over the next decade, driven largely by a much higher birth-to-death rate among Latinos.

“The Latino population has really fuelled the population changes in the U.S.,” he said.

Latino rates fell from 7.61 births per death in 2000, to 4.88 in 2016.

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Saenz says he and Johnson have seen the shift coming for years, but it appears to have been accelerated by drug-induced deaths among working-class whites.

“Our analysis suggests that more states are likely to experience white natural decrease in the near future,” Saenz and Johnson wrote in their analysis.

“The growing incidence of this white natural decrease has important implications for the nation’s demographic future.”

An outnumbered majority

White Americans will eventually be outnumbered by non-whites, Saenz says.

The U.S. was more than 80 per cent white in 1950, with African-Americans comprising most of the remaining 20 per cent, Saenz said.

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That started changing when the U.S. loosened its immigration policies in 1965.

Now, 61.3 per cent of the population is white, and estimated to drop to 47 per cent by 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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However, many new Latino immigrants are undocumented, which will delay their potential impact on the political landscape, Saenz said.

“That tipping point will be farther along into the future,” Saenz said.

In the meantime, Saenz anticipates more states will start registering net decreases in their populations of whites.

“It’ll probably be slow at the beginning,” he said.

“But it’s probably going to be increasing.”