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Multiple Origins, Uncertain Destinies: Hispanics and the American Future
year, had edged out non-Hispanic blacks as the nation’s largest minority population.6 Moreover, Hispanics were now the country’s fastest-growing ethnic minority—increasing at a rate 4 times faster than the total population and 14 times faster than that of whites.7
Several features distinguish the Hispanic population from African Americans. First is the diversity noted earlier. Second, nearly half of all Hispanics living in the United States today were born elsewhere, including the sizable number that are undocumented. Finally, Hispanics are a particularly youthful population: in 2000, their median age was just 27.
In 1960, when the baby boom swelled the U.S. population to 186 million, Hispanics accounted for a mere 4 percent of the total—just under 7 million. By 2000, 1 of every 7 U.S. residents self-identified as “Hispanic” or “Latino” in the census. Persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban descent currently represent 77 percent of the Hispanic population. Dominicans and those who trace their roots to one of the Spanish-speaking countries of Central or South America, or to Spain itself, make up the remaining 23 percent.
Hispanics are the largest foreign-born population in the country—a milestone reached in 1990 when, for the first time, immigration from Latin America exceeded the combined flows from Asia and Europe. By 2000, Mexican immigrants alone were more numerous than all European and Canadian immigrants together, and more than all Asian, African, and Middle Eastern immigrants combined.
Sustaining the growth of the Hispanic population today are both the extremely high flows of Latin American immigrants into the United States and the traditionally high Hispanic birth rates. Among Hispanics in the United States, 1 in 2 was born abroad (compared with 1 in 13 non-Hispanics), and approximately 1 in 3 (31 percent) is a member of a rapidly growing second generation—the U.S.-born children of immigrant parents.
Over time, the relative contribution of immigration and births to the growth of the Hispanic population has shifted. During the 1960s, when the Hispanic population increased by 3.9 million, births outpaced immigrants by about 2 to 1. In the following decade, the two components of growth were nearly equal—approximately 3 million each, with a slight edge for births. During the last two decades, however, immigration has outpaced fertility as the leading component of Hispanic population growth: in the 1980s, 5.5 million immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean were added to the Hispanic population, compared with 4.4 million Hispanic