America’s growing population will become significantly older and more diverse over the next several decades as women have fewer children and life expectancies grow.
New projections from the Census Bureau show the U.S. population is expected to grow to more than 400 million by 2058, an increase of about 74 million from 2019. The median American age today is 38 years old; by 2060, the median age is expected to be 43.
In a few decades, those 400 million people are likely to look much more diverse than the current population. As early as next year, the share of American children who are non-Hispanic white will fall below 50 percent for the first time, census figures show.
Asian Americans, Hispanics and people who are of more than one race are the fastest-growing racial and ethnic groups in the country, according to new research unveiled at a demographers meeting in New Orleans this week.
But population growth is slowing. In the next decade, America is likely to add about 2.3 million people per year. Between 2040 and 2060, that number is likely to fall to 1.6 million.
A significant factor in that slowdown is what demographers call the baby bust, a plummeting fertility rate among women of child-bearing age. Women are having fewer children, and at a later age, than at any other point in American history.
That trend accelerated in the wake of the Great Recession, said Ken Johnson, the senior demographer at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire. Fertility rates fell sharply after the 2007-2009 recession, as women and men entering the workforce struggled to attain the sorts of social benchmarks that usually lead to starting a family: getting married, buying a house and finding long-term professional employment.
Had the fertility rate in the last decade been equal to what it was in 2007, just before the recession hit in December of that year, Johnson said there would have been 5.8 million more births in the last decade than there have been. The percentage of women in childbearing years has increased 3 percentage points since 2007 — but births have declined by 12 percentage points.
“Teenage births and birthrates have dropped significantly — which is good. Fertility rates among women 20-29 have also dropped substantially,” Johnson said. “The women who were in their 20s when the recession hit are now in their 30s. If they are going to have children, it has to happen pretty soon.”
The Census Bureau predicts that sometime in the next decade the number of people who move to the United States from other countries will surpass the natural increase — the number of children born minus the number of people who die — as the main driver of U.S. population growth.
At the same time, many older Americans are living longer. As the Baby Boom generation moves into retirement, the ratio of working-age Americans per every retired person is expected to decline from 3.5 today to 2.5 in 2060, putting added strains on programs like Social Security and Medicare.
By 2035, the Census Bureau projects, there will be more Americans over the age of 65 than those under the age of 18, another first in American history.
That could be good news for the millennial generation, which suffered the most through the recession. Cheryl Russell, a demographer and contributing editor at American Demographics magazine, said an aging population means a smaller workforce — and therefore higher wages for employees.
“During the next two decades the Millennials will be at their economic peak. The last time a large generation was at its economic peak was in the late 1990s, which turned out to be one of the most affluent periods in modern U.S. history,” Russell said in an email. “The slowdown in population growth means potential labor shortages. This could further boost the earnings of Millennials as well as other workers.”
In the next 40 years, the number of non-Hispanic white Americans is projected to fall by about 20 million people, to 179 million. That would make non-Hispanic whites the largest group of Americans, but not a majority.