Recent Changing Demographics Challenge Racial Categories in America

On Wednesday, June 17th, we welcomed internationally recognized demographer and author of Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics are Remaking America, William Frey, to talk about how multiracial marriages and internal migration patterns are changing American demographics. The event was programmed in connection with our Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations (CBBG) program, an initiative to collect oral histories from multicultural and mixed race Brooklynites and create public programs that provide an open space for engaging conversations on the dynamics of race.  In his talk, Frey discussed the fascinating data behind his prediction that the United States will be a no racial majority nation by 2040.

Frey discusses the neighborhood racial makeup of average White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian residents across the United States.

Frey discusses the neighborhood racial makeup of the average White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian resident across the United States.

Frey’s motivation to begin writing Diversity Explosion was inspired by the most recent census which indicated that the country was “in the midst of a huge demographic change” from a majority white nation to one with no racial majority. The population trends indicate particularly rapid growth of what Frey calls “new minorities,” meaning the recent increases in Hispanic, Asian, and multi-race populations.

Frey showed that this shift is a result of the diminished growth and rapid aging rate of the white population in the U.S., a factor that is frequently overlooked when thinking about the future racial make-up of the United States.

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Courtesy of William Frey


As shown in the above chart, Frey pointed out that a majority of the white population is aging while the younger populations of minority groups are increasing. Birth rates among minority populations are increasing, while birth rates among the already declining white population are decreasing. Due to these concurrent trends, the shift towards a no racial majority nation will only continue into the next census.

Frey also discussed what he calls the segregation index. A demography insider’s term, the segregation index, also called the similarity index, is a number that measures the integration of a neighborhood.

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Courtesy of William Frey


As shown above, 80 indicates complete separation, while 0 indicates full integration. Frey noted that the segregation index number is still high in 2015, but that part of what is pulling the index number down are the amounts of interracial marriages present today. Frey said, “interracial marriages back in the 1960s were less than half of 1% of total marriages, meanwhile around 2010, 15% of all new marriages were interracial.”

This increase in interracial marriages simultaneously increases the population of multicultural people in the U.S. Frey commented that, “the children of these marriages are going to have a different way of identifying themselves then we’ve seen in the past.” This is precisely what the CBBG program explores through oral histories and research into the experiences of mixed heritage people in Brooklyn. We encourage you to browse the website to learn more about cultural hybridity and racial categories, including Ann Morning’s article: What Is ‘Race’? Academics Disagree,

After the discussion, we opened the conversation up to audience members who were concerned about how people are being placed in predetermined racial categories at the Census Bureau’s discretion. As Ann Morning explores in her article about race, racial categorization is a construct that is dependent on the society “doing the categorizing,” meaning that the U.S. Census Bureau’s choices are powerful in shaping our country’s understanding of race. For example, the Bureau’s popular decision to allow people to check multiple boxes in the race category on the census in 2010 suddenly revealed that multiracial Americans are the fastest growing demographic group in the country. Learn more about this decision in Sady Sullivan’s article, U.S. Census: Rationalizing Race, on the CBBG website.

The categories chosen by the U.S. Census Bureau are frequently challenged, particularly when they are not nearly nuanced enough, such as the use of the terms Hispanic or Asian. Frey suggested that in reality, “Hispanic and Asian are a different kind of category than race,” and that the U.S. Census Bureau decision-makers are likely to be “changing their mind about that in the 2020 Census.”

The event ended on a light note: “I’ve been accused of writing a good news book about race, and I think there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic. We are a multicultural nation, many people, even my age understand this.”

We encourage you to attend future public programs and invite you to engage in dialogue on the dynamics of race.


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One Response to Recent Changing Demographics Challenge Racial Categories in America

  1. Al Paulvin says:

    You’re talking about Sewer Preservation, Walking Tours of the Borough, and other such things. What about direct action to restore one of your oldest landmarks, the Erasmus Academy, located on the campus of the NYC’s oldest High School, Erasmus Hall. As a 1964 Alum, I’m totally aghast at the lack of action. You have city officials stating that it’s not worth repairing. Something doesn’t compute here. I’m confused, upset and appalled at the lack of caring and the inaction on the part of the Boroughs’ political big wigs. I’m sure if there was some deep thinking, a solution could be found. Not including me, there’s a lot of distinguished alums who may be interested in rescuing the Academy. There are other neighborhoods in Brooklyn that have received more attention and a focus directed towards renewal. Let’s getting moving in a meaningful direction.

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