Age and ethnicity: How different is the next America?

The United States of America is in the middle of a colorful demographic transition. While America continues to grow increasingly gray-haired, it is also becoming less white-skinned.
How different will the next America be?
image via National Geographic and PolicyMic

The United States of America is in the middle of a colorful demographic transition. While America continues to grow increasingly gray-haired, it is also becoming less white-skinned.

By themselves, each shift would be cause for realigning the construction of our social systems. That they are both taking place simultaneously suggests a more imperative need for a new look at how we successfully support such diversity. America the beautiful is still beautiful, perhaps just more colorfully so.

According to a recent report issued by the Pew Research Center, America’s transition is well underway. It portends sweeping shifts to come in the make-up of families, economic equality, political demographics, entitlement programs and more. What will social cohesion look like 20 years or 50 years from now? No one can say for sure. One thing we do know: It won’t be the same as it is now.

From “The next America” by Paul Taylor:

“At the same time our population is going gray, we’re also becoming multi-colored. In 1960, the population of the United States was 85% white; by 2060, it will be only 43% white. We were once a black and white country. Now, we’re a rainbow.

Our intricate new racial tapestry is being woven by the more than 40 million immigrants who have arrived since 1965, about half of them Hispanics and nearly three-in-ten Asians.”

As Taylor noted, advertisers are already hip to the idea of marketing to our more diverse culture. Earlier this year at the top television advertising opportunities (the Super Bowl and the Olympics) three well-known, mainstream brands (Coca-Cola, Chevrolet and Cheerios) released campaigns that reflect the new us — to the consternation of some. What many viewed as innocuous advertising, others saw as an affront to “old” America. All three, among other advertisers of perhaps lesser note, clearly aimed their promotions at the new America; ethnically diverse, same-sex, generationally complex and other non-traditional personas were portrayed.

If the nation’s top marketers are doing it, then I think we can assume they’re on to something. They’re not in the habit of making politically dangerous or otherwise controversial statements in the marketplace. They’re advertising for the purpose of acquiring America’s dollars, not America’s complaints.

You may have seen the advertisements noted above. Did they make you uncomfortable? If so, you’re in the old guard. Did they barely make a ripple in your pool? If so, you’re closer to being prepared for the coming America.

Give me your tired, your poor …

America has long been a land of immigrants. They, perhaps more than American-born citizens, embody the optimism and drive for making the most of our nation’s social wealth.

What is different now, and will be even more different in the coming decades, is the make-up of the immigrants that are driving America’s ethnic diversity. As generations settle across America, ethnic enclaves strengthen, as well ask broad integration takes place in urban and rural America. The early boom of American immigration was dominated by European settlers (about 88 percent). Today, European settlers in America comprise only 12 percent of our new citizens.

We’re so pretty, oh so pretty

National Geographic has decided that we’re going to look a lot different in 2050. Apparently, we’re only getting prettier as we get more racially integrated. It’s worth a look.

Each generation is different

According to the Pew Research Center report, America’s Millennials are the most ethnically diverse generation yet. Taylor writes, “More than four-in-ten are non-white, many the U.S.-born children of the big wave of Hispanic and Asian immigrants who began arriving half a century ago.”

America’s next leaders after the Baby Boomers are more liberal, socially integrated, technologically savvy and economically depressed than their preceding generations. The trend remains downward in terms of economic optimism and opportunity for each successive generation after the Boomers (Gen X, Gen Y / Millennials).

Gen X-ers, in particular, reported increasing anxiety during the recent recession. Kim Parker, Pew Research Center Director of Social Trends Research said, “I think the Boomers are feeling in better shape than the generation that’s right behind them.”

By any measure, the burden of supporting seniors is unsustainable at the current rate. Our social constructs will undergo major revisions as the years and decades go by. The costs of our programs primarily for elder Boomers and the Silent Generation will soon account for more than half of the federal budget. Gen X and Gen Y are waking up to this burden.

Taylor concludes, “If Americans can bring to the public square the same genius for generational interdependence they bring to their family lives, the politics of these issues will become less toxic and the policy choices less forbidding.”

Here’s hoping.


Julian Rogers is a writer, editor, community manager and marketing communications consultant for high-achieving businesses. He is the senior communications consultant for Juju Eye Communications. Find out what he’s thinking about on his blog:, or connect with him on LinkedInFacebookTwitter and Google+.

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