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Changing Demographics of America

When John Steinbeck traveled around America in 1960, he saw a very different racial makeup than the one I am going to see. In fact, according to a Pew Research study on the changing racial tapestry of America, the US has gone from approximately 85% White and 12% Black in 1960 to 62% White, 17% Hispanic, 12% Black, and 5% Asian in 2016. According to the study, White population in the US will decline to 43% by 2060.

The study attributes the demographic changes to the immigration of more than 40 million people since 1960, half of whom are Hispanic and 33% Asian.

Click for interactive graph on Pew Research website

According to the US Census, the percentage of whites in 1960 was even higher: in a publication titled Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970, in 1960 a full 88.6% of the population was White, 10.5% Black, and 0.9% "Other". Since they were such a small part of the demographic makeup, Asians and Latinos were not even reported in the census numbers before 1970; the population types were listed as "White", "Negro" or "Other" in summary tables.

US Census publication titled Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970

Steinbeck ventured forth in an America that was young and overwhelmingly White; my America of 2016 is older and much more diverse. Steinbeck would likely be surprised to find that his home state of California is now home to more Latinos than whites. By 1970, Latinos already accounted for 12% of the population of California, and the population continued (and continues) to grow. Today, the median age of a Latino in California is 29 in contrast to the white median age of 45.

The US has always been a country of immigrants. This provides the diversity and culture that makes America a place of innovation, creativity, and enthusiasm. It will be interesting to see where the mix of races and cultures takes us.


As well as changes in the racial makeup of America, the age demographics have also changed. The data visualization below represents the changes in US population demographics from 1960 to 2010, according to the US Census Bureau.

Click for interactive map on Tableau Public

Note the outlier in the graph to the left representing the baby boom of 5-14 year olds in 1960 (approximately 20% of total population). In contrast, note the outlier of the relatively small number of people under the age of 5 in the 2010 right column (only 6% of the total; in 1960 under 5s made up 11%). In 1960, a much larger percentage of the population was young: a full 45% were under the age of 24, while in 2010, only 34% were in this age bracket.

Income and Gender Pay Disparity

In 1960, the population of the US had increased by 18.5% between in the last ten years, and the median income of families was $5,620 annually, according to a 1961 Department of Commerce report titled Consumer Population Reports: Consumer Income (PDF). A man’s median income was $4,100, while women’s incomes averaged $1,300. This was attributed to a large percentage of women who worked part time; the report makes a note that women who worked full time had a median income of $3,300.

According to these numbers, a woman in 1960 made 80% as much as a man. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research says that female full-time workers in 2015 made only 79% of male income. The numbers from 1960 and 2015 are taken from different sources and in different context; however, it appears that relative to men, women in 2016 are still earning less and little progress has been made in closing the gender pay gap.

Last Note

One of the things I’d like to investigate on my trip is how these changing demographics affect other aspects of our collective American lives. Steinbeck was intrigued by the increase in mobile homes and trailer communities, and the relative transience of the population. I wager he never expected for the actual racial makeup of the country to change so dramatically!

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