1995 to 240.0 million in 2050, although they will account for a slightly smaller proportion of the total population.43

Racial and Ethnic Composition

As described earlier in this chapter, projecting the future population by racial and ethnic groups in the conventional way involves making assumptions about fertility, mortality, and immigration for each group—independent of the other groups—and projecting the group as if it were a closed population. As Hirschman (1996:22) argues, this approach, however logical the exercise may seem, suffers from two limitations, one methodological and the other interpretive. First, the critical assumption of ethnic groups as ascriptively defined populations with fixed boundaries may be a very tenuous one, historically and for the future. Second, racial and ethnic population projections are being used, often without careful thought or reflection, as firm demographic evidence to show that American society and culture is being threatened by continued immigration.

The growing rate of intermarriage among whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians (although most intermarriages are of whites with other groups) ensures that the future of the United States will not be a set of distinct cultures and languages, let alone a unique ethnic identification. If there are many intermarriages, then more people will have multiethnic parental ties and more children will have multipleancestry, possibly weakening traditional ethnic boundaries in the United States.44

With these important caveats in mind, even if net immigration is zero, the future racial/ethnic composition of the population will not remain static. Differences in fertility and mortality among groups in the present population will see to that. Because there are a large number of younger people in the U.S. population, the population will continue to grow in the future, even without further immigration. This population "momentum" is inherent to the age structure of each of the racial and Hispanic groups, although there will be future growth in the absence of


Not shown here are separate results for the generational composition for each of the four major racial/ethnic groups. These results show that the first generation of Asian and Hispanic populations will continue to increase, along with a consequent rapid growth of the second and third generations. Asians and Hispanics will be predominantly immigrant-oriented for the period of this projection.


Deepening problems beset the definition and measurement of racial and ethnic identification in government statistics, and there are strong efforts to both modify and maintain current ethnic categories. Much of the demand for change stems from concerns about the ethnic identification of children from racial and Hispanic intermarriages. After earlier waves of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe about a century ago, the second and third generations saw rapid increases in ethnic intermarriages, resulting in shifts in ethnic identification. Population projections that rely on a conventional definition of race and ethnicity may become increasingly anachronistic.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement