How Demographics Are Changing in America

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Learn about demographics and how they're changing in the US, specifically with respect to an aging population and increasing ethnic diversity. See how well you know the trends by taking a quiz.

What are Demographics?

Demography is the study of numbers and statistics about a population. Demographics are numbers that describe the structure and size of populations, and how they vary by location, age, and across time. Demographic data can include numbers about religion, ethnicity, race, nationality, education levels, or age.

The demography of the United States is among the most studied. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the country's 2014 population at slightly under 319 million, with a diversity of many races and religions (though more than three quarters are Christian). The demographics of the United States, like all countries, are constantly changing, and are out of date as soon as they're investigated. In this lesson, we'll talk about the two most significant trends in the demographics of the United States: the aging population and increasing ethnic diversity.

An Aging Population

One of the most commonly documented demographic trends in the United States is its aging population. Thanks to the baby boom that followed World War II, there is a large proportion of the American population that is reaching old age around the same time. This is causing the average age in the United States to increase. As of 2012, approximately 14% of the US population was 65 years and older. By 2040, this number is projected to reach 22%.

The USA has an aging population
The USA has an aging population

This aging population creates several challenges, most notably in the area of healthcare. Healthcare costs in the United States are increasing dramatically. There are a number of reasons for this that have nothing to do with changing demographics, but the aging population is certainly one factor. Older people use disproportionately large amounts of healthcare. So it follows that if the age of the population increases, the cost of healthcare will also increase. This increases prices across the board. There are other services, like Social Security, that are used predominantly by older people and are thus impacted by the aging population. Simultaneously, the tax-paying workforce of the United States is decreasing as fewer people are having children.

Healthcare spending has been increasing in the western world partly due to the aging population
Healthcare spending has been increasing in the western world partly due to the aging population

The aging population of the United States is posing challenges that will need to be faced by governments and organizations in the coming years. Solutions could include increasing the retirement age at which people can receive Social Security benefits, reducing benefits for wealthier seniors, or increasing Social Security taxes on higher incomes.

Diversity and Multiculturalism

Ethnic diversity within the United States is also increasing. The United States is already a highly diverse nation. 2014 Census Bureau data indicates that the US population self-identified as approximately 62% non-Hispanic white, 17% Hispanic or Latino, 13% black or African-American, and 5% Asian. It has been predicted that the non-Hispanic white population will drop below 50% by 2050. The Census Bureau has said that the United States is becoming a ''plurality nation.''

Changing ethnic diversity in the USA
Changing ethnic diversity in the USA

Diversity and multiculturalism have great advantages. They bring new ideas and philosophies, and get people used to dealing with other cultures in the name of world harmony. However, they can also pose challenges. Racism remains (and perhaps always will remain) an issue, and cultural misunderstandings are common. There have even been studies that seem to suggest that without proper education, putting different groups in a society together can actually decrease tolerance rather than the expected opposite. Education will have to continually adapt to the cultures of modern students by educating in ways that are inclusive, and by teaching people about cultural differences.

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