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Immigration Will Soon be the Biggest Population Driver—For the First Time Since 1850 Immigration Will Soon be the Biggest Population Driver—For the First...

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Immigration Will Soon be the Biggest Population Driver—For the First Time Since 1850


A naturalization ceremony in Phoenix, Ariz., in the summer of 2012.(Jack Kurtz/

Some time in roughly the next 15 to 25 years, immigration will become the primary driver of U.S. population growth, overtaking “natural” increases for the first time in nearly 200 years.


That estimate, from the Census Bureau, is driven largely by the fact that fertility rates in the U.S. are falling and baby boomers are aging. It would be the first time immigration overtook so-called “natural” increases in the population since the Census started keeping such records in 1850. And, depending on its size, the immigration wave may offset some of the effects of boomers dying off.

“Higher international migration would mean a faster growing, more diverse, and younger U.S. population,” the Bureau announced in a statement. The influx of immigrants could help to ease the burden of entitlement spending on aging boomers. In the December chart below, the Bureau showed how boomers will work their way through the population like food through a snake.


With an immigration reform bill wending its way through Congress, and the potential for social, political and economic forces to affect migration patterns in myriad ways, it’s difficult to make precise predictions. So the Bureau put together three: a low, constant and high estimate. Annual immigration by 2060 would range anywhere from just over 700,000—around the current level—to 1.6 million, depending on the estimate.

The U.S. population would reach 400 million by mid-century and non-Hispanic whites would become a minority sometime between 2041 and 2043. Hispanics, who accounted for 17 percent of the population in 2012, will make up roughly 30 percent of the population in 2060.

The share of the population aged 65 and up would rise from 13.7 percent in 2012 to more than 20 percent in 2060 under each scenario. Seniors would outnumber children under 18 sometime between 2038 and 2056, except in the highest-immigration scenario under which youth will maintain the edge through at least 2060.

The share of the working-age population—those 18 to 64—will fall no matter what, though higher immigration is associated with a smaller decline.




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