The New Generation Gap: Key Differences as the U.S. Becomes More Diverse

The U.S. is becoming more diverse ethnically and will continue to be more diverse in the future. In 2011, groups once referred to as minorities, particularly Hispanics and Asians, became the majority of births for the first time.

The growing ethnic diversification has been evident and expected for some time. But a recent report from the Pew Charitable Trust highlights just how complicated and, well, diverse the cultural trends that follow in its wake are likely to be.

Part of the reason is that the growth of ethnic diversity is not the only demographic trend evident and becoming stronger. The U.S. population is also graying. In the two decades between 2010 and 2030, the number of people aged 65 and over is expected to increase 84%. In sharp contrast, the cohort aged 18 to 64 — the working-age population — is expected to rise only 8%. And the population younger than 18 is only going to expand 3%.

Younger People Likely to Be More Tolerant of Diversity

The differences are significant both culturally and economically and have implications for the emergent workforce.

Younger people, which Pew defines as Millennials and younger members of Generation Y, all under the age of 35, are both more likely to be diverse and more tolerant of diversity. This group is 40% minority and has grown up in an era in which immigration was relatively common and visible.

People 70 years old and older — Baby Boomers and younger members of the Silent Generation — are, on the other hand, 70% white. They grew up in an era in which the U.S. was a majority white nation. The Pew points out that they are not as accepting of diversity. Much of the increasing diversity of the nation was initially fueled, of course, by immigration. But 46% of the older age group, close to half, feel that rising immigration is a change for the worse in the U.S. Less than a quarter sees it as a change for the better.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Pew report is the acknowledgment that these data are at variance with the widely held public image of the Baby Boom generation, which has tended to emphasize its liberalism in trail-blazing greater roles for African-Americans and women.

But they also grew up in an era when immigration was at a historic low in the nation, at just 5% of the population from 1946 to 1964. Older generations saw greater levels of immigrants, just as younger ones did later.

Baby Boomers and older members of Generation X have less positive views of diversity than younger generations. 

A Battle for Limited Resources?

The end result of these trends may be a battle for limited resources. As government programs on education and health are increasingly streamlined and limited, they tend to impact both ends of the age spectrum. The young require education and the old require healthcare.

The Pew forecasts that the older, whiter generation may politically safeguard the programs that matter to them, such as Social Security and Medicare. Those attempts may be successful given the prevalence of the demographic.

But younger generations are increasingly likely to be Hispanic and Asian. There are less of them, but they may increasingly want more services that reflect their needs and less for older people if choices have to be made about an increasingly shrinking government dollar.

As the U.S. moves into being a majority-minority nation and an increasingly older one during the coming decades, unfolding cultural shifts are likely.

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