Tag Archives: United States Census Bureau

JCHS: Census Bureau Takes a Small Step in Better Describing the Structure of the Modern Family — but More Can Be Done

Census Bureau Takes a Small Step in Better Describing the Structure of the Modern Family — but More Can Be Done

 by George Masnick
Fellow
On November 25 the Census Bureau released its latest package of tables describing American families and living arrangements. These tables highlight the growing complexity of living arrangements among children—and the challenges that demographers and housing analysts face in charting changing household composition.
Since 2007 these tables have included a breakdown of family groups that identify couples who were not legally married but were joint parents of at least one minor child in the household.  This change reflects the trend for families to increasingly be started by the birth of a child rather than by marriage. Over 85 percent of births to teens are out of wedlock, as are over 60 percent of births to 20-24 year olds and over 30 percent of births to 25-29 year olds. Among those in their 20s co-residence of the parents is usually the norm, but in many cases, marriage does not take place for several years, and may never take place, certainly if the couple splits up.  Prior to 2007, these particular family groups were lumped into the category of “other families” with either a male or female reference person as head.  It was impossible under this old definition to distinguish in the tabulated data when unmarried family groups contained joint parents.
Many who referred to the older data assumed (incorrectly) that if adults in such family groups were not “currently married,” then the child or children were living in a “single”-parent household.  The implication was that unmarried two-parent households would behave more like one-parent households than like married couples across a wide range of issues of importance for public policy, including housing consumption.
The magnitude of the numbers of two-parent families under the old and new definitions can be seen in Exhibit 1.  While only about 7 percent of two-parent families are not married, that number is up from 5 percent in 2007. (Click exhibits to enlarge.)
 1220_masnick_exhibit1
Source: Current Population Survey March and annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2012 and earlier,http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/families.html. Table FM-2;http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/cps2013.html
In 2013 about 76 percent of all parents of minor children were married. Among young adults with minor children, however, the share that is currently married is much lower than this average (Exhibit 2). Only 43 percent of such parents under the age of 25 are married, as are just 65 percent of parents age 25-29.  The higher shares of older parents of minor children that are married reflect both the lower share of births to unmarried women when these parents were younger as well as the tendency for people to marry later. Whether today’s younger cohorts of parents will carry forward higher percentages of unmarried two-parent and “single”-parent living arrangements when they reach middle age remains to be seen.  I have put the word “single” in parentheses because it refers to legal marital status only, and these parents may well be partnered.
 1220_masnick_exhibit2
When the parents of minor children are broken down by race/ethnicity we can see quite a large amount of variability in marriage/living arrangements (Exhibit 3).  The largest discrepancy is between Blacks and Asians.  Only 51 percent of Black parents are currently married compared to 89 percent of Asian parents of minor children. The share of non-Hispanic White parents of minor children who are married is almost 82 percent. Fully 42 percent of Black parents are in “single” parent living arrangements compared to only 9 percent of Asians. We would like to be able to identify the degree to which these differences are accounted for by differences in age of parents and by nativity status, but the data in the Census Bureau’s releases do not allow us to fully do this.  The data are especially silent when attempting to determine the presence of non-parent adults in the “single” parent category.
 1220_masnick_exhibit3
 
While identifying joint-parent unmarried couples as a separate category is a step forward, especially among parents in their 20s, a further breakdown of the data is still needed to better describe the modern family.  Married couples consist of persons in their first marriage and those who have been remarried.  If we are now identifying unmarried parents that are both the biological parent of at least one minor child in the household, shouldn’t we also identify married couples where only one parent is the biological parent of any child?  Some “single” parents are living with a partner to whom they are not married, who for all intents and purposes are helping to support the family and acting like a parent.  Some “single” parents are living with non-partner adults who also might be playing parental roles.  Many children are in “joint custody” households.  These “blended” and “extended” living arrangements are all very much part of the modern family, but cannot be readily identified in the Census data, especially by age cohort.
The next steps that the Census Bureau can take to present a better picture of the modern family seem straightforward.  Marital status could include a category “remarried,” and married couples should be further broken down by marriages in which one or both partners are remarried. Unmarried parents of minor children could be broken down by those living with a partner and those not. Among those not living with a partner, the presence or absence of other adults could be identified.  Minor children in married couple living arrangements could be identified as the biological child of both parents or as a stepchild of one parent.  And minor children in the household could be identified as living exclusively in the household or regularly spending some of their time in another household.
Generational differences in living arrangements at the onset of family formation, and the extent to which these differences persist as cohorts age, are key descriptors of the modern family. Therefore, many of the CPS tables should provide the age of the reference parent as a variable that is cross tabulated against other variables.  It would also be helpful if these new tables are produced separately by race/Hispanic origin of the reference parent.  This detailed breakdown by age and race/Hispanic origin will stretch the CPS data quite thin, to be sure, but the user can always aggregate up to gain robustness.
Finally, a few comments about the sharp decline since 2007 in Exhibit 1 in the number of two-parent families with minor children. This decline is certainly related to the effects of the Great Recession.  One reason for the decline is that immigration fell sharply in 2006 and has just begun to recover. Immigrant women have higher fertility than native born and experienced the greatest fertility decline during the economic down turn. These are trends consistent with the poor economic conditions that have affected young adults most severely.  Immigrants also have a much higher share of births to married couples compared to native born (76.4 percent versus 61.2 percent), and the decline in immigration during the Great Recession thus contributed to the recent rise in the share of all births that are to unmarried women.
It is normal that during a recession, both marriages and births are postponed.  A recovery in marriages would be expected to lag the recovery in the economy to allow for some planning of the event.  Meanwhile, both the decline and the recovery in births should each lag the trend in the economy by a year or more.  Although year-to-year instability in the CPS series is often the result of simple random variability, perhaps the upturn in 2013 in the number of families with minor children is further evidence that the economic recovery has begun in earnest.
Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under JCHS

Wood products find floor

Wood products find floor

Timber Industry Report

By Rick Sohn, PhD
Coquille LLC

A correction in wood products seems to have found a floor, interest rates are trending down, and real estate activity continues at a healthy pace, despite slower starts. Seven-year trend of lumber, logs, housing, and mortgage statistics are shown below.

chart-sohn-aug13

Interpretation
Last month falling lumber and log prices, and rising mortgage interest rates were highlighted. This month, a negative trend in Housing Starts and Building Permits continues and we are now back down to later 2012 levels.

Monthly average mortgage interest rates are still headed up, and July will report 4.37% rate. The most recent week does show a dip to 4.31%.

Wood products prices seem to have found a floor. Not only studs, but according to Random Lengths, Oriented Strand Board prices fell 41% in the second quarter, before finding a floor. This is the sharpest single quarter decline for OSB in the last 17 years, since these records have been kept.

Log prices have not fallen as far, so there is more squeeze on the wood products producers.

This is a year of serious forest fires in the Southern Oregon area. 35,000 acres have burned in Douglas County as of this report. This represents a mix of private industrial timberland and Bureau of Land Management lands, perhaps 10-15,000 acres of private industrial land. A lot of the industrial land is covered with reproduction forests that are not merchantable. These stands will represent a total loss.

To the minor extent that there is merch timber, rapid salvage can be expected from private lands. There is not likely enough merch timber to affect log prices, as substitution from planned logging by industrial producers will occur. The BLM lands, in contrast, are likely dominated by a forest of merchantable timber. Barring the effects of a recent court case supporting logging on BLM O&C lands, salvage logging, is not likely, even though it would be desirable for forest recovery and the economy.

In the meantime, home sales do not seem to have slowed much, and real estate sales statistics remain positive and improving. Unsold inventory in Portland, while up slightly, is still below 3.0%. And, the median US home value continues to increase.

According to Roseburg Prudential Agent Janet Johnston, agents are busy with lots of activity, despite the uptick in interest rates, which are still excellent for most people but might affect the ability of a few buyers to purchase. Some buyers will have to lower their expectations of what they can qualify for. Most activity is still in the $250,000 and under range, although there are now some pending sales in the $600-$800,000 range. Carol Johnson, a G.Stiles Realty agent in Roseburg is also reporting an increase in showings in the above-$600,000 price.

Data reports used with permission of:
1-Random Lengths. Through Sept. 2012, 2”x4”x8’ precision end trimmed hem-fir stud grade from Southern Oregon mills. Starting Oct. 2012, consolidated with Kiln Dried Studs, Coast Hem-Fir 2x4x8’ PET #2/#2&Btr. Price reported is Dollars per Thousand Board Feet, generally the third week of the month. One “board foot” of product measures 12 inches by 12 inches by one inch thick.
2–RISI, Log Lines. Douglas-fir #2 Sawmill Log, Average Region 3 Southern Oregon price, reported in Dollars per Thousand Board Feet of logs, Scribner Scale. The standardized Scribner Scale includes expected saw trim waste, so a log board foot is much more wood volume than a product board foot.
3– Dept. of Commerce, US Census Bureau. New Residential Housing Starts and New Residential Construction Permits, seasonally adjusted, annual rate. Recent reports are often revised in bold. Also, major revision made each May, reaching 2 1/2 yrs back.
4–Regional Multiple Listing Service RMLSTM data, courtesy of Janet Johnston, Prudential Real Estate Professionals Broker, Roseburg, OR. Inventory of Unsold Homes (Ratio of Active Listings to Closed Sales) in Portland, Oregon, for most recent month available.
5–Freddie Mac. Primary Mortgage Market Survey. 30-year Fixed Rate Mortgages Since 1971, national averages. Updated weekly, current report is for the prior full month.
6–Mortgage-X Most recent weekly rate of 30-year Fixed Rate Mortgages, national average.
7–Zillow.com Median value of homes sold in the United States during the month, weighted according to each area population. The Median removes the effect of outlier expensive homes, with equal numbers of homes above and below the median value each month. Revisions in bold
Issue #6-7. © Copyright Rick Sohn, Umpqua Coquille LLC.

Leave a comment

Filed under lumber

LIRA 2nd QTR 2013: Remodeling Gains Expected to Continue Into 2014

Remodeling Gains Expected to Continue Into 2014

by Abbe Will
Research Analyst

In our July 16 blog, Census Bureau Remodeling Data Revisions Out of Sync with Other Market Indicators, we indicated that there would not be a Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA) this quarter due to unusually volatile revisions to home improvement spending data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau.  On July 18, 2013, however, Census announced corrections to their annual revisions and today we are releasing our LIRA.

General strengthening in the housing market over the past 18 months is translating into increased spending on home improvements. Remodeling contractors have been reporting improving market conditions for the past four quarters, and are seeing strength in future market indicators.  Spending trends have been on a solid upward slope, with the LIRA projecting continued strengthening of the market through the end of this year and into the first quarter of 2014.

Homeowners are more comfortable investing in their homes right now. Consumer confidence scores are back to pre-recession levels, and since recent homebuyers are traditionally the most active in the home improvement market, the growth in sales of existing homes is providing more opportunities for these improvement projects.

Yet, with housing starts leveling off in the second quarter and financing costs beginning to edge up, we may be seeing the beginning of more measured growth in the residential markets. Given normal timing patterns, this suggests that the pace of growth for home improvement spending should begin to moderate as we move into 2014.

(Click chart to enlarge)

lira_2013_q2_fullsize

For more information about the LIRA, including how it is calculated, visit the Joint Center website.

 

1 Comment

Filed under LIRA

Census Bureau Remodeling Data Revisions Out of Sync with Other Market Indicators

Census Bureau Remodeling Data Revisions Out of Sync with Other Market Indicators

 by Abbe Will
Research Analyst
Since 2007, the Joint Center for Housing Studies has produced a quarterly Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA), which makes use of several economic indicators that historically have had strong correlations and leads over remodeling spending to anticipate near-term changes in the market. The Joint Center relies on the homeowner improvement expenditure data reported in the U.S. Census Bureau’s monthly Construction Spending Put in Place series (C-30) to estimate and benchmark its LIRA.
On July 1, the Census Bureau released its regularly scheduled annual revisions to the C-30, which adjusted the monthly improvement spending estimates back two calendar years to January 2011. As seen in Figure 1, these revisions increased estimates of home improvement spending by 6% for 2011 (from $114 billion to $121 billion) and decreased spending over 10% for 2012 (from $125 billion to $112 billion).

 LIRA

Source: US Census Bureau, Value of Private Construction Spending Put in Place (C-30).

Typically, these annual revisions are minimal and, in the past, changes were always in the same direction as the original estimates, often revising the whole series downward somewhat (Figure 2). This time, not only was the magnitude of the revisions significantly larger than in recent years, but the direction of the revisions was extremely divergent from what could have been expected based on previous annual revisions.

071713_lira_figure2

Source: US Census Bureau, Value of Private Construction Spending Put in Place (C-30).

Certainly, the extent of these revisions by itself calls for a thorough analysis and understanding of the reasons behind such dramatic changes, but the fact that the adjustments are at odds with other key industry data is even more worrisome. Figure 3 compares the annual rates of change in data series that historically correlate highly with home improvement spending (and are used as main inputs in the LIRA) with the pre- and post-revision C-30 data. As seen in the figure, key industry indicators including retail sales at building material and supply stores, remodeling contractor sentiment (RMI), pending home sales (PHSI) and single family housing starts all trended closely with the pre-revised C-30 estimates of homeowner improvement spending since January 2011.

 071713_lira_figure3
Sources: US Census Bureau, Value of Private Construction Spending Put in Place (C-30), Monthly Retail Trade Report and New Privately Owned Housing Units Started; National Association of Home Builders Remodeling Market Index (RMI); and National Association of Realtors© Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI).
At this time, there is no obvious explanation for why the revisions to the C-30 improvements data were so extreme this year. As part of the Joint Center’s investigation of this issue, we will be in contact with the federal agencies involved in collecting the survey data and developing these estimates to assess whether changes in survey methodology or weighting procedures, for example, might explain these large shifts. As the Joint Center reviews the underlying source data for home improvement spending and the procedures that generate these estimates, we have decided to forgo publication of the LIRA this quarter. The next LIRA is scheduled to be released on October 17, 2013.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under JCHS, LIRA

JCHS: Housing Recovery Unlikely to Ease Renter Cost Burdens

Housing Recovery Unlikely to Ease Renter Cost Burdens

by Chris Herbert
Research Director

The headlines continue to trumpet good news about the housing market, including falling vacancy rates and increased construction in rental housing markets across the country. But the flip side of this good news for the rental market is that the share of renters who face severe cost burdens, paying more than half their income for housing, has surged in recent years. As documented in our most recent State of the Nation’s Housing report, the number of renter households facing severe cost burdens reached a new record of 11.2 million in 2011, an increase of 2.5 million households since just before the recession in 2007 (see Figure 1). To make matters worse, this rise comes on the heels of what had already been a decade of worsening rental affordability; the number of renters facing severe housing cost burdens increased by 1.4 million between 2001 and 2007.  In all, the decade from 2001 to 2011 saw an increase of more than 50 percent in the incidence of severe rental cost burdens.

 071213_herbert_figure1
Notes: Severely cost-burdened households spend more than 50 percent of pre-tax income on housing costs. Source: JCHS tabulations of US Census Bureau, American Community Surveys.
To a substantial degree, the sharp rise in renter cost burdens reflects the significant growth in the number of low-income renters who are most likely to struggle to afford housing.  Between 2007 and 2011 the Great Recession pushed the number of renters earning less than $15,000 up by 1.8 million, while those earning between $15,000 and $30,000 rose by 1.1 million. ($15,000 roughly corresponds to what is earned by those working year round at the federal minimum wage.) But over the same time frame, rising rents made it even more likely that households within these income bands would face severe burdens.  Over this four year period, the share severely burdened households among those earning less than $15,000 rose from 67 to 71 percent, while among those earning between $15,000 and $30,000 the share rose from 29 to 33 percent.
But while the number of low-income renters has risen sharply, the supply of housing they can afford has at best remained stagnant (see Figure 2).  In 2011 there were 12.1 million extremely low-income renters who earned 30 percent or less of median incomes in the areas where they lived.  (This is a common income cutoff for eligibility for housing vouchers and is roughly equivalent to our $15,000 threshold but is adjusted for differences in area incomes and family size.)  Meanwhile, there were only 6.8 million rental units affordable at this income cutoff, representing a gap of 5.3 million housing units.  The shortage of affordable housing is made worse by the fact that many of these affordable units are occupied by higher income households. When the number of units affordable for extremely low-income households and available to them is considered, the supply gap in 2011 was even larger – 7.9 million units.  The magnitude of this supply gap testifies to the fact that it is nearly impossible to produce new housing at such low rents, and almost as difficult to maintain existing housing. In fact, 650,000 housing units renting for less than $400 a month in 2001 were permanently lost from the housing stock by 2011.
 071213_herbert_figure2
Note: Extremely low-income households earn less than 30% of area median income.
Source: JCHS tabulations of US Census Bureau, American Housing Surveys.
With the market unable to supply housing affordable for the nation’s lowest-income households, addressing the problem of rising rent burdens may largely come down to efforts to increase household incomes. But there will always be some households facing temporary financial struggles and others facing long-term challenges who will need more assistance to afford decent housing. Currently, only one in four of those eligible for federal assistance are able to obtain subsidized housing. Those who do are among the nation’s most vulnerable families and individuals – 35 percent are disabled, 31 percent are age 62 or older, and 38 percent are single parents with children. With the population of households struggling to afford housing at record levels and continuing to expand, there is a compelling need to assess whether existing resources for assisted housing are both sufficient to meet the need and being used effectively through current programs.
But while options for reforming the housing finance system have been subject to a vigorous debate, to date the issue of how to address the significant problem of rental housing affordability has received relatively little attention.  The Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) Housing Commission report this past year was a notable exception as it both framed the importance of this issue and advanced specific policy options that should be considered.
The next snapshot of renter cost burdens will come this fall when the 2012 American Community Survey is released.  But as we showed in this year’s State of the Nation’s Housing report, rents are continuing to increase in markets across the country, against a backdrop of continued stagnation in household incomes. As a result, it is likely that this more up-to-date data will once again find that rental housing affordability has only gotten worse. Hopefully, the BPC report will start a dialogue on what should be done to address this urgent problem.

Leave a comment

Filed under JCHS

Prices down, rates up, Housing starts wobble

Prices down, rates up, Housing starts wobble

July 11, 2013

Timber Industry Report
By Rick Sohn, PhD
Coquille LLC

Good news/bad news. Product prices are down and mortgage rates are up. Housing starts are lackluster, but unsold inventory is down. Seven-year trend of lumber, logs, housing, and mortgage statistics are shown below.

chart-sohn-july13

Interpretation
The housing recovery has entered a readjustment phase. Product prices have decreased one third in just two months, reacting to over-supply, from a high of $445 down to $290 per Thousand Board Feet. There has been an equally dramatic increase in the 30-year fixed rate mortgage – a half percentage point rise in the last week alone, and a and a full percentage point rise in the last 7 weeks.

Housing Starts and Building Permits are also down, compared to the regular monthly records over the last year.

In good news, Median home prices continue to inch up, but are still well below previous highs. And unsold home inventories have continued to drop, now to their lowest level in 7 years – 2.5 months.

Good news/bad news also involves log prices, which normally trail product prices. Log prices tracked here, have stayed within a $20 range between January and June, after an $89 rise from December to January 2013, and a $37 rise from October to December. But the latest drop in product prices, if it holds for the rest of the building season, suggests that log prices will drop quite a bit further in the next few months.

If you are a mill, the combination of slowly adjusting log prices and decreasing product prices creates a squeeze on net income.

Industry economic analysts at a session hosted by Northwest Farm Credit Services, expressed optimism about the future of log and lumber consumption and prices, over the next 3-5 years. However the industry itself remains skeptical, and Random Lengths this week, reported “10 reasons to be cautious about the housing recovery.” The reasons include the rise in interest rates, and a drop in the percentage of home ownership from 69.1% to 65% and an accompanying increase in apartments being built, which require only about one third as much wood as a home.

Weyerhaeuser has shown its strong optimism with the long term wood products business recently. They purchased the Longview Timber lands, located in the Northwest. This purchase, for $2.65 billion, added 1/3 to its Pacific Northwest holdings, an addition of 645,000 acres. This brings Weyerhaeuser’s total for the Pacific Northwest to 2.6 million acres, and, and nearly 21 million acres in North America.

There is a breather in some parts of the recovery, according to the economists, and the pent up demand of people to own a new house, the overall trend of the wood products industry should remain very positive over the next few years. Most likely, the slowdown in some sectors is seasonal and the result of rebalancing inventories and production that creates growing pains.

Data reports used with permission of:
1) Random Lengths. Through Sept. 2012, 2”x4”x8’ precision end trimmed hem-fir stud grade from Southern Oregon mills. Starting Oct. 2012, consolidated with Kiln Dried Studs, Coast Hem-Fir 2x4x8’ PET #2/#2&Btr. Price reported is Dollars per Thousand Board Feet, generally the third week of the month. One “board foot” of product measures 12 inches by 12 inches by one inch thick.
2) RISI, Log Lines. Douglas-fir #2 Sawmill Log, Average Region 3 Southern Oregon price. Current report is for the prior month, in Dollars per Thousand Board Feet of logs, Scribner Scale. The standardized Scribner Scale includes expected saw trim waste, so a log board foot is much more wood volume than a product board foot.
3) Dept. of Commerce, US Census Bureau. New Residential Housing Starts and New Residential Construction Permits, seasonally adjusted, annual rate. Current report is for the prior month. Recent reports are often revised in bold. Also, major revision made each May, reaching 2 1/2 yrs back.
4) Regional Multiple Listing Service RMLSTM data, courtesy of Janet Johnston, Prudential Real Estate Professionals Broker, Roseburg, OR. Inventory of Unsold Homes (Ratio of Active Listings to Closed Sales) in Portland Oregon, for most recent month available.
5) Freddie Mac. Primary Mortgage Market Survey. 30-year Fixed Rate Mortgages Since 1971, national averages. Updated weekly, current report is for the prior full month.
6) Mortgage-X Most recent weekly rate of 30-year Fixed Rate Mortgages, national average.
7) Zillow.com Median value of homes sold in the United States during the month, weighted according toeach area population. The Median removes the effect of outlier expensive homes, with equal numbers of homes above and below the median value each month. Revisions in bold
Issue #6-6. © Copyright Rick Sohn, Umpqua Coquille LLC.

Leave a comment

Filed under lumber

JCHS: A Word of Caution about Census Bureau Projections

A Word of Caution about Census Bureau Projections

 by George Masnick
The Census Bureau recently released its high and low immigration series population projections going out to 2060, complementing its middle series released in December 2012.  Among the talking points in the press release announcing the projections was the assertion that the high immigration series “projects that the U.S. resident population will become majority-minority by 2041, two years earlier than the December (middle series) projection of 2043.”The point is well taken that the growth of the minority population depends upon future levels of immigration, and higher immigration means an earlier date at which the country becomes majority-minority. But between now and the 2040s there is a great deal more uncertainty about immigration trends than is captured in the Census Bureau’s latest assumptions, including uncertainty about how attitudes and norms will affect who is counted as minority.  In addition, all three of the Census Bureau’s population projections use the same assumption about projected fertility levels of each race/Hispanic origin group.  Not only are fertility trends difficult to predict over many decades, but different immigration levels will surely affect fertility rates.

The new middle series immigration assumptions trend from 725,000 per year in 2012 to 1.2 million in 2050. Low assumptions trend from 702,000 to 808,000, and high assumptions from 747,000 to 1.6 million annually.  All three immigration assumptions are well below those of the previous Census Bureau population projections released in 2008 and 2009, with the new high immigration series even projecting fewer immigrants in 2050 than the previous low immigration assumption (Figure 1). Such a wide range of uncertainty about future levels of immigration should make one wary about the reliability of projections that reach almost 50 years into the future.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau 2009 National Population Projections

However, the projected level of immigration is not the only area of uncertainty that will affect the projected white-minority tipping point.  Predicting a specific year when the population actually becomes majority-minority sometime three decades ahead will also require assumptions about how Americans in the future will identify themselves in terms of race and ancestry.

Perhaps the most important wild card is the growing rate of inter-ethnic/race marriages, particularly when one parent is non-Hispanic white and the other is not, both because the rates of intermarriage will help determine the future minority composition of the population and because it is unclear how the children of such unions will be classified in future censuses and how they will self-identify as adults.  According to a Pew Research Center report, among all newlyweds in 2010, 9% of whites, 17% of blacks, 26% of Hispanics and 28% of Asians “married out.”  Most of these marriages involved one partner who was non-Hispanic white. The same report notes that during the past 25 years, public sentiment about inter-marriage has changed markedly: in 2010, nearly two-thirds of Americans said it “would be fine” with them if a member of their own family were to marry someone outside their own racial or ethnic group, while in 1986, two thirds of the population held the opposite view.  During the next 25 years, marrying out is likely to become even more common and more widely accepted.

Such trends in inter-marriage tell only part of the story regarding inter-racial childbearing, however. The percentage of births that are non-marital has been increasing steadily since the 1940s, and the greatest increases have taken place in recent years.  Today, 36 percent of all births taking place in the U.S. are non-marital, with much higher percentages among teens (86 percent) and women in their early 20s (62 percent). Given that younger cohorts are more favorably disposed to inter-racial relationships, many of which result in childbearing outside of marriage, the statistics on inter-marriages in the Pew report could well underestimate the implications for future inter-racial/ethnic childbearing.

The number of inter-marriage/partnerships taking place over the next 30 years, the number of children born to these relationships, and how the race/ethnicity of these children get classified in censuses and surveys will fundamentally affect the share of the population that is identified as minority.  More importantly, how these children will self-identify as adults in 2040 is basically unknown.  Census Bureau population projections tacitly assume that this variable is held constant at today’s levels, and that young adults will self-identify in the future the same way that they were identified as children by their parents.

A strong argument has been made that racial and ethnic identity is highly variable over time and depends upon social and political conditions. In 1970, the question on Hispanic origin was added to the Decennial Census, and in 1980 the question on ancestry, both after concerted political lobbying by Latinos in the case of the former and those of European descent for the latter.  The Asian community successfully lobbied to expand the number of Asian options listed in the 1990 census. However, since then the percentage of the population whose ancestry was not identified by the census has increased, slightly between 1980 and 1990, and dramatically between 1990 and 2000 (increasing from 11 percent to 20 percent).  In 2010 the ancestry question was shifted to the American Community Survey.  In that survey ancestry was unidentifiable or not reported for about 12 percent of the population, but only after a persistent effort with follow-up interviews with respondents having not answered this and other questions. Such follow-up was not conducted for the 2000 census.

In short, ancestry appears increasingly to be less important in how Americans identify themselves. And if ancestry, and perhaps by extension race and ethnicity, becomes less important in how we self-identify as Americans, it is entirely likely that in 30 years the percent minority will become a statistic that has become less robust.  Specifically, fewer persons of Hispanic origin might check that box. Likewise, fewer of mixed-race ancestry might identify as such.

A third way that the majority-minority tipping date might be influenced are the apparently arbitrary definitions of whom the Census Bureau counts as minority.  For example, immigrants from Brazil are not counted as minority (Hispanic/Latino) because of Portuguese ancestry, even though most Brazilians also have some indigenous South American native ancestry.  Persons with ancestry in the Middle East and in North Africa are also categorized as white. But a future OMB directive could require that these persons be counted as minorities.

Finally, it has already been demonstrated that such simple factors as questionnaire wording, order of asking questions about nativity, race and ethnicity, and examples used as prompts to questions, will all influence responses.  It is very unlikely that current questionnaire protocols for these items will be used decades in the future.

While there is a lot of uncertainty about the projections 30-50 years into the future, the new projections for the next 10-20 years are likely to be much more accurate.  And they are extremely valuable for showing the magnitude and importance of different immigration assumptions for relatively near-term trends in population growth and for broadly understanding the changing age, race and ethnic composition of the population. Longer-term trends in race and ethnic composition will depend as much on fertility levels, on rates of intermarriage, and on how we think about others and about ourselves, as it does on actual immigration trends.

Leave a comment

Filed under JCHS