Journal Issue: Critical Health Issues for Children and Youth Volume 4 Number 3 Winter 1994
Sources of Change
Two key factors, immigration and natural increase (births minus deaths), determine both the growth of the U.S. population and its ethnic composition. Immigration of different ethnic groups is necessary to introduce these groups into the national population, and differential rates of immigration among groups are also reflected in the relative share of the population each represents. Among ethnic groups already settled in the United States, differential rates of natural increase will, over time, change the relative representation of the groups in the population. Groups with relatively high birthrates will gradually account for a larger share of the population.
Figure 2 illustrates ethnic-group-specific differences in the two factors which determine population growth. Overall, in recent years, the annual rate of growth attributable to natural increase has been more than double the rate for immigration. For Asians/Pacific Islanders and Hispanics, however, immigration has been and is projected to continue to be an important factor in population growth. Although immigrants in the big wave of immigration that occurred around the turn of the century were predominantly young adults, it appears that current immigrant families contain many children. In 1910, only 12% of immigrants were under 14 years old, while between 1987 and 1990, 22% of immigrants were age 14 or under.14
In addition to differences in rates of immigration, Figure 2 also gives some insight into how different rates of natural increase are changing the face of U.S. society. Rates of increase among all non-white groups are two to three times greater than the rate for non-Hispanic whites. This difference is largely the result of higher birthrates for non-white groups, although the white population also has the highest death rate because it is the oldest of all the groups. Hence, even in the absence of any additional immigration, the proportion of non-Hispanic whites in the current population is likely to continue to decline over time, although somewhat more slowly than has been projected in models which account for immigration such as the projection for 2025 found in Figure 1.
Another consequence of differential rates of natural increase is that the distribution of children among ethnic groups will be different than the distribution of adults (see data for 1990 and 2025 in Figure 1). The implications of this for the well-being of children cannot be determined at present. However, it has been observed that ethnic groups frequently function like extended families, bound by common links of culture, language, customs, and interests.1 Accordingly, it may be that concern for and attention to the needs of children are reduced when adult policy and decision makers are from ethnic groups other than those represented by a large segment of the child population.