Research Report

Evolving Patterns in Diversity

Mapping America’s Futures, Brief 2

From 2010 to 2030 the United States will become more racially and ethnically diverse, but demographic projections suggest the patterns of increasing diversity will vary widely across cities and regions. In this brief, we project changes in the population shares across geographies for four major groups: Hispanics, non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, and non-Hispanic others. Though growing diversity across the United States will be welcome in many ways, it will also bring challenges to areas in which different groups increase in population share.

This brief is one of a series that demonstrates the potential for policy and social investigation using the “Mapping America’s Futures: Population” tool. In this brief, we examine how changes in the population sizes of racial and ethnic groups will affect future patterns of diversity across geographic regions of the United States. Other briefs in the series examine projections for overall population growth (“Scenarios for Regional Growth from 2010 to 2030”), for changes in the age structure of the population (“Children and Youth in an Aging America”), and for changes in America’s labor markets (“The Labor Force in an Aging and Growing America”). The online tool allows the viewer to see the implications of different assumptions about future fertility, mortality, and migration, all of which are explained in “Methodology and Assumptions for the Mapping America’s Futures Project.” Our population projections are divided geographically across 740 commuting zones of the United States. We also combined the commuting zones into 24 regions with boundaries built from reviews of literature and observed differences in recent patterns of population change.

In this brief, we focus on projections based on a scenario in which fertility and mortality continue at recent rates for each age, race and ethnicity, and sex, and migration continues at an average level, between higher and lower scenarios; we use the average scenario for each of these components.

Engines of Diversity

It is well known that the minority share of the United States population is increasing. The factors contributing to this increase are also well known: minority groups are having more children, and non-Hispanic whites are an older population and are experiencing more deaths. However, as a step toward interpreting why this increasing diversity might vary across geographies of the United States, it is important to describe the relevant demographic factors in detail. We determined the geographically distinct patterns of racial diversity for 2010 to 2030 by examining immigration, domestic migration, aging, fertility rates, and the combined effects of these demographics.


All main racial and ethnic groups in the United States will have some amount of population increase because of immigration. The amount of immigration relative to the size of the native population varies widely, with Hispanics and non-Hispanic others (primarily Asians) likely to have the greatest overall increase in population shares by immigration. Further, where immigrants settle in the country will vary across groups, influenced by the history of the group’s patterns of immigration and settlement and the types of economic opportunities to which they are most attracted.

Domestic Migration

As with immigration, all racial and ethnic groups will migrate domestically in response to economic opportunities, though not always in the same way. Group differences in domestic migration are also influenced by different quality-of-life issues, such as seeking improved living conditions, amenities, and public services for families, or looking for better lifestyles in retirement. Domestic migration means that for every place a person moves into, there is another place that person is moving out of, so the combination of in- and out-migration can have a particularly rapid effect on racial and ethnic shares across geographies.


Race and ethnic groups differ widely in their age distributions. The aging of a particular population will affect its relative population shares. Groups with relatively large populations moving into childbearing ages are likely to have more births, even beyond any group differences in age-specific fertility rates. And, groups with the largest elderly populations will have the greatest future declines in population because of expected mortality.

Fertility Rates

Racial and ethnic groups differ somewhat in their age-specific fertility rates. Fertility rates in the childbearing population will thus contribute to evolving racial and ethnic changes in population shares. However, fertility rates are not only source of group differences in childbearing; an equally important factor is group differences in the relative size of the population that is of childbearing age.

Combined Effects

Migration, changing age distributions, and fertility together can affect population shares in ways that enhance their separate effects. For example, both domestic migration and immigration are disproportionately represented by people in their 20s and early 30s, who also have most of the children. Given that this moving population is also more diverse than the overall population, the combined effects of migration and fertility can change populations rapidly.

Population Shares by Race and Ethnicity

We first show projections for a select set of commuting zones, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Washington, DC, and Youngstown. These commuting zones represent various US regions, population sizes, economic circumstances, and histories. The projections for these commuting zones demonstrate the four different ways the population share of a race or ethnic group can change over time (see table 1).

  • A group can increase population share through a growing population. For example, Atlanta’s Hispanic population is projected to grow by over 800,000 people, which would result in a 6.5 percent increase in the Hispanic share of the total population.
  • A group can decrease population share by reducing its population. For example, Youngstown’s non-Hispanic white population is projected to reduce by about 85,000 people, which would result in a decrease of 2.7 percent in the non-Hispanic white share of the total population.
  • A group can experience a reduction in its population and still increase its population share if the overall commuting zone population is shrinking faster. For example, Youngstown’s non-Hispanic black population, which is projected to reduce by over 4,000 people, would increase its share of the total population by 0.4 percent.
  • A group can also decrease in population share despite a growing population if the overall commuting zone population is growing faster. For example, DC’s non-Hispanic black population, which is projected to increase by nearly 70,000 people, would reduce non-Hispanic its share of the total population by 6.4 percent.

As areas like commuting zones demonstrate how local populations may change, the national picture presents larger patterns.

Exhibit 1

A More Hispanic South

As figure 1 confirms, the Hispanic share of the population is expected to increase almost everywhere in the United States. The increase is concentrated mostly across the south, especially the South Atlantic region, population centers of the Piedmont, Central Florida, and the Texas Triangle regions as well as the southern Great Plains.

Other regions expected to have a strong increase in the Hispanic population share include parts of the California Central Valley and large, sparsely populated areas across the Basin and Range from western Colorado to eastern Washington. Among the few places expected to have a decreasing Hispanic share, New York City stands out because of its large population.

Exhibit 2

Non-Hispanic White Shares Decrease Everywhere

Figure 2 shows the unsurprising projection that the non-Hispanic white share of the US population is expected to decrease almost everywhere. The intensity of the projected decline varies across regions, but it is difficult to find a consistent pattern in the regions that would have the sharpest declines. Steep declines in the non-Hispanic white share are projected for densely populated regions from the Northeast Corridor south to Central Florida, as well as for less populated areas stretching from I-94 North Country across to the Pacific. Places expected to have large growth in non-Hispanic white populations, such as Atlanta and Las Vegas, are still expected to have a decrease in the non-Hispanic white share of the population because of even stronger increases in populations of other racial and ethnic groups. Thus, although the extent of the decline in the white population will not be even, it will be widespread across economic and cultural regions.

Exhibit 3

Non-Hispanic Black Shares Rise and Fall

As shown in figure 3, non-Hispanic blacks are the only racial group whose population shares are rising in many areas and declining in many others. We project that large southern cities will have increasing black population shares, as shown for the commuting zones surrounding Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston, along with many parts of Florida. In contrast, large northern commuting zones will have decreasing shares, including Chicago, New York City, and Philadelphia.

The population shifts in these large cities will involve the largest total populations but will not be the only important shifts in black population shares. In the commuting zones for smaller cities and rural areas, black population shares are projected to change in an opposite North–South pattern. In the North, non-Hispanic black population shares are projected to increase across a broad northern band of regions from Northern New England through the Northeast Mountains, Great Lakes, and I-94 North Country. In the traditionally black South outside the major population centers, the non-Hispanic black population share is projected to decrease.

Exhibit 4

Non-Hispanic Other Shares Increase, Especially in Coastal Cities

We use the category “non-Hispanic other” because of the limitations of the data sources for our projections; this limitation is unfortunate given the diverse groups combined into this category. The patterns projected in figure 4 reflect the heterogeneity of this population group, which includes Asians, American Indians and Alaska Natives, multiracial individuals, and people who marked “some other race” on their Census forms. Each of these groups is an important demographic group with unique future patterns of geographic distribution; though we hope in the future to be able to explore their separate trends, for now we summarize projected shifts for the aggregated population. The United States as a whole is projected to increase its non-Hispanic other population share, particularly in the major cities along both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, reflecting expected growth in immigration from Asia. Growing Asian populations are also projected for some inland cities, like Detroit.

This category is also projected to increase population share in regions of the northern Great Plains and southern Basin and Range regions, which contain a significant population of Native Americans. For these regions, projected increases in non-Hispanic other population shares might reflect differences in age distributions compared with the larger and older local non-Hispanic white population, as well as differences in out-migration of the non-Hispanic white population. The US multiracial population is currently concentrated in many of the dark blue areas of figure 4, such as the Cascadia, Northeast Corridor, and Pacific regions along the coasts, along with interior regions, such as parts of Basin and Range, the Great Plains, and the Texas Triangle. It is particularly difficult to know how best to project the growth of the US multiracial population.

Exhibit 5

Other Scenarios and Patterns

Figures 1 through 4 reflect population shares under one scenario of many that can be explored using the “Mapping America’s Futures: Population” tool. Under different assumptions about fertility, mortality, and migration, the population shares for each racial and ethnic group will shift. For example, under a scenario of increased migration across commuting zones, even if immigration rates hold steady, the Hispanic share is projected to increase more in the South Atlantic region, and the non-Hispanic other share is projected to increase more in the Texas Triangle region, including Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. These regions are all farther from traditional gateways of immigration for the respective racial and ethnic groups, so a large fraction of their population growth has been recent.

Under a scenario of reduced migration, the non-Hispanic white population share is projected to decrease less in the Great Lakes region as a smaller share of retirees moves south; the same population will decrease more in the retirement destinations of Arizona and Central Florida, as the flow of migrants needed to replenish the retired population is reduced. Similarly, in the low-migration scenario the non-Hispanic black population share is projected to increase strongly in the Delta region, as fewer blacks migrate from the region and those who stay have more births than the non-Hispanic white population because of their much younger age distribution.

How Changing Diversity Might Affect America

These projections reflect possible future populations, based on our assumptions and varying amounts of momentum carrying each of several demographic processes into the future. Overall, these changes will result in greater racial and ethnic diversity in most commuting zones across the United States. Within the separate commuting zones, the increases in diversity will play out differently, occurring at different speeds and involving different groups.

These shifts in diversity will almost certainly contribute to economic, cultural, and political changes in various commuting zones. The exact forms of change will no doubt be influenced by demographic factors, but other factors that are even harder to anticipate make it too difficult to predict any changes here. We can, however, at least predict, based on previous infusions of diverse groups, that this trend will bring new opportunities and challenges to the different parts of the United States.

About the Authors

Steven Martin is a senior research associate in the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute, having joined in 2013. He works on various topics in social demography; his particular area of interest has been modeling demographic events across the life course. His recent work has covered a range of demographic topics across the life course, such as nonmarital childbearing, fertility timing, childlessness, union formation and dissolution, and age at entry into sexual activity as well as topics in time use, well-being, the “digital divide” (the unequal diffusion of Internet and computer use in the United States), and the quality of data from event-history surveys.

Nan Marie Astone is a senior fellow in the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute, which she joined in 2013 after serving 24 years on the faculty of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is a demographer with expertise on reproductive health, the family, adolescence, and the transition to adulthood.

H. Elizabeth Peters is the director of the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute. An economic demographer, her research focuses on family economics and family policy, specifically examining the effects of public policies such as divorce laws, child support policy, child care policy, taxes, and welfare reform on family formation and dissolution; inter- and intra-household transfers; father involvement; and family investments in children. She recently completed a program project grant funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development on the transition to fatherhood and is currently coprincipal investigator on an Administration for Children and Families project that examines innovative practices involving fathers in home visiting programs.

Rolf Pendall is director of the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute. In this role, he leads a team of over 40 experts on a broad array of housing, community development, and economic development topics, consistent with Urban’s nonpartisan, evidence-based approach to economic and social policy.

Austin Nichols is an Urban Institute affiliated scholar who specializes in applied econometrics, labor economics, and public finance. His research focuses on the well-being of families and social insurance programs, including work on child poverty, disability insurance, income volatility, and economic mobility (within and across generations). He also studies education, health, and labor market interventions, and determinants of poverty and economic inequality.

Kaitlin Franks Hildner is a research associate in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center. Her research focuses on using data and analysis to better inform decisionmakers at both the policy and the programmatic levels. Her current work includes providing technical assistance to US Department of Education Promise Neighborhoods grantees on how to use and develop longitudinal data systems and assisting with the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership.

Allison Stolte is a research associate in the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute, where her research focuses primarily on policies and service designs relating to the workforce development of low-income individuals and young parents, youth development programs, and child food security. Stolte contributes to all stages of the qualitative and quantitative research process, including research design, data collection, management, and analysis. She has conducted and participated in over 100 data-collection interviews and focus groups across the United States and has conducted statistical analyses using quantitative program data. She also leads quality control strategies and both on-site and webinar trainings for program providers regarding proper data-collection procedures.


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Copyright © January 2015. Urban Institute. Permission is granted for reproduction of this file, with attribution to the Urban Institute. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.