The population of the United States is undergoing rapid and substantial change. As a country, we are growing older and more diverse at the same time. By 2050, if projections hold, we will be a "majority minority society"—a country that no longer has a majority of any one racial or ethnic group. These demographic trends have important implications for school leaders.
An aging population
We are growing older and more diverse. In 2010, the median age in the United States had reached 37.2 years of age, up 1.9 years from the 2000 median age of 35.3 years. By 2030, about one in five people would be sixty-five or older. The sixty-five and older population is expected to grow to 16.3 percent in 2020, and to 19.3 percent in 2030.
While we don't have 2010 breakdowns yet, in 2000 non-Hispanic whites were the oldest group, with a median age of 39 years. Blacks had a median age of 30 years, and Asians, 33 years. Hispanics were the youngest, with a median age of 26 years.
There is no reason to believe this general pattern has changed. For instance, we do know that in 2010, only nineteen percent of the Hispanic population was forty-five years or older. More than one-third of all Hispanics are younger than eighteen. And forty-seven percent of children younger than five are members of a racial or ethnic minority.
Although this younger, more diverse generation under eighteen will grow, it will constitute a smaller percent of the total population in years to come—dropping from 24.0 percent in 2010 to 23.6 percent in 2030.
Schools will be depending on financial support from an older, non-Hispanic white population with no school-age children. School leaders will need to develop cogent arguments and communications strategies to convince these voters that supporting public schools is a wise investment in America's future.
A more diverse population
The aging U.S. population is also growing more diverse. Between 2000 and 2010, the total population increased by 9.7 percent (from 281.4 to 308.7 million people), but the nation's Hispanic and Asian populations continued to grow at much faster rates than the population as a whole.
These changes are evident in the school arena. In 1970, at the peak of Baby Boomer enrollments, the student population was seventy-nine percent non-Hispanic white, fourteen percent black, one percent Asian and Pacific Islander, and six percent Hispanic. In 2008, in contrast, the elementary and high school population was fifty-nine percent non-Hispanic white, fifteen percent black, five percent Asian and Pacific Islander, and eighteen percent Hispanic.
The growth in minority populations is projected to continue and, ultimately, to transform the face of the country. The nation's Hispanic and Asian populations has been projected to triple between 2000 and 2050, but the non-Hispanic white population would drop to about fifty percent by 2050.
||Percent of Nation's Total Population
||Percent of Nation's Total Population
- Achievement gaps between white and minority students already exist, and graduation rates for blacks and Hispanics are lower than those for white students. As public schools educate a population increasingly comprised of children of color and Hispanic origin, school leaders will want to take all necessary steps to raise achievement for all groups—ensuring that schools do not grow more separate and unequal.
- Minorities have traditionally been underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. With the non-Hispanic white population shrinking and the entry-level workforce increasingly comprising minorities, the nation could face shortages in science and medicine. School leaders will want to encourage minority students to take challenging math and science courses that prepare them for rewarding careers that also meet the nation's needs.
Major regional differences
The demographic changes do not impact all states equally. The nation's population became increasingly concentrated in the West and South between 1950 and 2010. In 2010, more than half the nation's population (54 percent) lived in just 10 states: California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey and Georgia.
The fastest-growing states between 2000 and 2010 were concentrated in the West, and nine of the ten fastest-growing metropolitan areas were in the West and South. Between 2000 and 2010, fifteen states (including six in the Northeast) saw their non-Hispanic white populations decline.
Even in states where the non-Hispanic white population increased, growth was larger in other populations. For example, eight states—all in the South and West—saw double-digit percentage increases in their non-Hispanic white population, but even higher increases in their non-white and Hispanic populations.
These regional trends are projected to continue. Between 2000 and 2030, the population of the United States as a whole will increase by 29.2 percent. The West will grow by 28.9 million, or 45.8 percent, and the South by 43 million, or 42.9 percent. Population in the Midwest, however, will grow only by 6.1 million, or 9.5 percent, and the Northeast population by 4.1 million, or 7.6 percent.
| U.S. Population Under 18, 2000 to 2030
||% of Population Under 18
These population shifts will affect school enrollment. Between 2000 and 2010, the Northeast lost 5.5 percent of its under-eighteen population, and the Midwest, 3.1 percent. During the same period, the South saw an increase of 8.7 percent in its under-eighteen population, and the West, 5.3 percent.
Since enrollment increases and declines might affect school facility and staffing issues, school leaders will want to have the most accurate information available.
Educators should review their school enrollment trends and compare them with Census data, keeping in mind that the Census tends to undercount minorities and overcount non-Hispanic whites.
For more information
The United States Census Bureau provides a wealth of data, including demographic trends by age, cohort, race, gender, Hispanic origin, and other factors. The Bureau's American FactFinder offers population, housing, economic and geographic data for the nation as a whole and for regions, states, congressional districts, counties, zip codes and census tracts.
This document was prepared for the Center for Public Education by Ron Crouch with additional editorial contributions from Sally Banks Zakariya. Crouch is director of the Kentucky State Data Center, located at the University of Louisville. Zakariya, a free-lance writer based in Arlington, Virginia, is former editor-in-chief of American School Board Journal and director of publications for the National School Boards Association. The document was later updated by Joyti Jiandani, policy intern for the Center for Public Education.
Posted: December 1, 2007. Updated May 2012.
©2012 Center for Public Education