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21st century demographics (21st century skills)

Older and more diverse. That, in a nutshell, is what the American population will be like in the years to come. In a few short decades—that is, in 2030, when the last of the Baby Boomers turn 65—nearly one out of every five U.S. residents will be entering what used to be called the Golden Years.

And that’s just the beginning: The population of folks 65 and older will more than double by 2050, and the population of those 85 and older will more than triple.

The economic implications of an aging population are clear. “Fewer of us will have to support many more of us than has ever been the case before,” according to the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. And that makes it all the more vital to maintain economic growth.

A second demographic trend is just as significant. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that “minorities” will make up the majority of U.S. schoolchildren by 2023, the majority of working-age Americans by 2039, and the majority of all Americans by 2042. This growing diversity will be more evident in some parts of the country than in others. But no matter where they go to school now, today’s students can expect to live and work in communities that will be much more diverse than they were in the past.

It’s not surprising, then, that a recent Conference Board study found that the ability to handle diversity is one of the top five work-related skills employers expect will increase in importance over the next five years.

These demographic changes present two related challenges for schools:

  • Schools will need to develop the capacity to teach a more diverse population of students.
  • Schools will need to prepare those students to interact effectively with more diverse groups of people in their communities and at work.

For more, see Demographic change in the full report, Defining a 21st century education.


This summary was based on a work by Craig D. Jerald. Craig D. Jerald is president of Break the Curve Consulting, specializing in education policy, communications, research, and practice. Previously, Craig was a Principal Partner at the Education Trust, where he worked on issues related to teacher quality, accountability, federal education policy, and the practices of high-performing schools and districts. Craig was also a Senior Editor at Education Week, where he founded and managed the organization’s research division and helped create Ed Week’s special annual reports series, Quality Counts and Technology Counts.

Posted: September 21, 2009

©2009 Center for Public Education

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