Sometimes demographic ‘facts’ aren’t quite what they seem

Much of what’s presented as news now is better described as narrative spinning

Pat MurphyIf you follow American news, you’ve probably come across many assertions that by mid-century the United States is set to become a “majority-minority” country. For the first time since its founding, whites will no longer form a majority of the population.

This has been greeted with a range of reactions. Some people are dismayed, or at least apprehensive, while others are jubilant. Politicians and commentators associated with the Democrats see it as a guaranteed ticket to permanent supremacy.

But according to Richard Alba, this is oversimplified, even misleading. In his book The Great Demographic Illusion, Alba argues that the “majority-minority” thesis reflects a flawed understanding of the actual data.

Alba is a distinguished professor of sociology and demography is a specialty. By any reasonable yardstick, he’s a liberal. A self-described Joe Biden voter and believer in economic redistribution, he’s morally sympathetic to the idea of open borders.

Increasing demographic diversity isn’t something he disapproves of or fears. Far from it.

Alba notes that a key source for the “majority-minority” meme is a line from a table in the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 demographic projections.

Click here to downloadWhat the line describes as Non-Hispanic Whites will decline from 61.3 per cent of the population in 2016 to 44.3 per cent in 2060. However, the line immediately above tells a different story: whites will still account for 68 per cent of the population in 2060. Alba wonders why the reporting chose to focus on one line rather than the other.

And you might also reasonably ask why the two lines could differ so dramatically – 68 per cent versus 44 per cent. The answer is simple. It’s a policy choice designed to maximize minority numbers.

If you identified as Hispanic but also chose white as a racial category, you were assigned Hispanic as your primary identity. Similarly, if you checked both white and Asian on the (multiple answers allowed) questionnaire, the white check was disregarded for the purpose of this particular table.

At least in part, this reflects political pressure from civil rights groups. Because the census counts are used in civil rights jurisprudence, advocates were concerned about anything that might dilute minority counts. They feared this would make it harder to legally sustain arguments that employers weren’t hiring sufficient minorities.

Alba sees the result as promoting a misunderstanding of what’s actually happening in American life. People are increasingly marrying across racial lines. The golfer Tiger Woods, for instance, once described himself as “Cablanasian,” reflecting his mixed Caucasian, Black and Asian ancestry.

The scope of the misrepresentation isn’t trivial. To quote: “By the 2050s, one of every three babies with white ancestry will also have Hispanic or racially non-white ancestry when second-generation mixes are counted.”

Whites are especially prevalent in the burgeoning intermarriage world.

Marriages between whites and Hispanics comprise about 40 per cent of current intermarriages. Marriages between whites and Asians are next at 15 per cent.

Further, approximately one-seventh of 2017 births were to parents from different ethno-racial backgrounds. And three-quarters of these were to white-minority parent combinations.

Yes, the U.S. is becoming more demographically diverse. But the “majority-minority” meme misses a critical point.

Whites aren’t about to fade into the background anytime soon, if ever. Through a combination of their enormous starting base and their preponderance in the rising intermarriage tide, people with white heritage will remain by far the most significant political cohort for the foreseeable future.

Why does the media enable the misunderstanding?

When I came to Canada over 50 years ago, my first boss was a woman who didn’t miss much. I was a Toronto Star reader at the time but arrived at the office one day with a copy of the Toronto Telegram, which she promptly observed was a “Tory paper.” Her message was simple: don’t necessarily believe everything you read.

It was a fair point. Newspapers had perspectives and the sense of events you’d get from one wasn’t what you’d get from another.

But two things were different back then.

Major media had more ideological diversity. Consequently, homogenous memes were less all pervasive.

And the divide between news and opinion was stronger. Much of what’s presented as news now is better described as narrative spinning. Under the guise of providing context – which in itself is laudable – the practice is to ensure that readers come to the “correct” conclusions.

That’s not a good thing.

Troy Media columnist Pat Murphy casts a history buff’s eye at the goings-on in our world. Never cynical – well, perhaps a little bit. For interview requests, click here.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the authors’ alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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