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Demographics, new attitudes driving changes
There was a lot of attention focused on the changing demographics of the nation after the presidential election and speculation about the impact it would have on elections in the coming years.
But politics is only a small part of the impact that is coming.
For example, a recent report from the Census Bureau noted that the importance of marriage in relationships is apparently declining. Those living together without being married has steadily increased since the 1990s. In 1970, more than two thirds of couples were married. It is now about half that number.
In addition, as of this year, 40 percent of the unmarried couples living together have children. There was a time when marriage was considered essential – even if couples were initially unmarried – before moving to the stage of life when children came into the relationship.
Clearly, the idea that marriage is the foundation of most families is no longer as true in American society as in the past. Many of our societal rules, traditions and institutions are linked to the idea of marriage and parenthood during marriage. That inevitably will have to change if this trend continues.
The friction over this new attitude can be seen in the political and court battles currently taking place over the definition of marriage. It is complicated by the religious overtones often placed on the institution of marriage.
A related interesting trend is that stay-at-home parents are becoming more common again, reversing a move toward two working parents that started around the 1960s. So far the change is relatively small, but it will be interesting to see if the reversal continues or if it is a temporary factor related to the recent economic upheaval in the nation.
Another important trend involves the country's birth rate. The United States had a record low birth rate in 2011, according to an analysis of government statistics by the Pew Research Center. It reported that approximately 63 children were born per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44 last year.
That is half the number born in 1957 and the lowest number since the government began keeping records in 1920. The declining birth rate is taking place among all ethnic groups, including immigrants, who traditionally have a higher rate than other groups in our nation.
Still, immigrants account for many births. Pew researchers believe that by 2050, assuming trends continue, 82 percent of U.S. population growth will be due to immigrants who have arrived since 2005 and their descendents.
This points to why immigration is going to be increasingly important as a political policy issue. As their proportion of the population grows, they will increasing have more influence.
The reality is that without more immigrants choosing to come here, our nation will not have enough population growth to sustain its economy and prosperity. The birth rate without them won't keep up. Attracting the “best and brightest” immigrants to our country and keeping them here will be essential.
Another demographic change reported by the Census Bureau involves aging heads of households in America. The share of households headed by those 55 to 64 years old has been rising – from 13 percent in 1990 and to 19 percent in 2012. At the same time, households headed by those younger than 30 fell.
Both are understandable. The older household heads are due to the familiar baby boomers – the massive generational group born between 1946 and 1964. The boomers continue to have an impact as they move up the age scale. Fewer younger heads of households are likely related to the declining birth rate trend mentioned earlier.
Beyond the fact these demographic changes are interesting, they will also have a major impact over time on our nation. Current laws, tax policies, institutions, marketing approaches and economic policies will change as efforts are made to address these changes.
Exactly how these factors will change will be revealed in the coming years. But one thing is certain and that is that the nation will not be the same as it is now or it was in the past. Some Americans won't like this – something that is already evident in today's political world – but it is inevitable.
Terry Ross is director of the Yuma Sun’s News and Information Center. Email: email@example.com. Telephone: 539-6870.