The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
November 26, 2012

Diversity is Changing More Than Our Politics

November 26, 2012

The presidential election got everybody talking about our country’s growing diversity. But the changing makeup of America’s population has implications that go far beyond politics. Immigration, the aging of the baby-boom generation, growing tolerance of gays and lesbians, and evolving norms about marriage and childbearing are transforming American society. These changes fuel new sources of economic dynamism and opportunity, and they pose new challenges for equity and social mobility.

Urban areas—both cities and suburbs—are leading this demographic transformation, although some metros are much farther along the path of change than others.

In metropolitan America today, the average white American lives in a neighborhood where more than three-quarters of his neighbors (77 percent) are also white. Seven percent are black, 10 percent are Latino, and 4 percent are Asian.

That's considerably more diverse than three decades ago, when the average white (metropolitan) American lived in a neighborhood that was 88 percent white, 5 percent black, 5 percent Latino, and 1 percent Asian. City populations have rebounded in the past two decades as the number of people who value the density and diversity that cities offer has grown. They are mostly Millennials, who have delayed childbearing, marriage, and even household formation because of a combination of changing culture and economic necessity. But when they finally decide to settle down and form families, will cities offer the safety, good schools, and quality services necessary to keep them?

During the 2000s, growth in the number of children with immigrant parents offset a national decline in children with native-born parents. Were it not for the children of immigrants, the child population in the top 100 metros overall and in many metros would have declined in the last decade.

Many baby boomers are postponing retirement, in part because they need the income, but also because today’s older Americans are healthier than a generation ago. But working into one’s 70s is much more feasible for people like me whose work is intellectually engaging than for those working in physically demanding occupations.

In the months and years ahead, policymakers (not just politicians) should give their full attention to the new America we are becoming and respond to the opportunities and challenges of our demographic future.

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