White America is aging.
I know that won’t come as a huge surprise to many of the readers who comment here–a number of you reside in my own age cohort, and–shocked as I am by how quickly it seemed to happen–I have to admit that I’m pretty old.
I posted a while back about America’s changing electorate, and the fact that some 4 million Americans turn 18 –voting age–every year. Also every year, two and a half million older Americans die.
I recently came across yet another article considering America’s ongoing age shift; this one was titled “White America is Getting Older.” Here’s the lede:
A news release from the Census Bureau published on Thursday morning summarized three-quarters of a century of American history succinctly. It was titled, “America Is Getting Older.”
This is the Census Bureau, so the assertion was backed up with data. The median age in the U.S. rose to 38.9 years in 2022, up 0.2 years from 2021. Over the past year, 46 states saw increases in their median ages. Four states (and D.C.) saw no change.
This isn’t surprising but is, instead, a continuation of a long-standing trend. But there is an important detail that’s easy to overlook here: The increase in age is largely a function of White Americans getting older — a distinction that itself helps explain an awful lot about American culture and politics in the moment.
As the article explains, the Americans who are beginning to die off were part of the post WWII “baby boom.” That boom began at a time when immigration was constrained, and as of 1970, about 84 percent of the country was non-Hispanic White, and the median age was just over 28.
A few years ago, the Census Bureau released data showing the age of Americans by race. At that point, the most common age for a White American was 58. The most common age for a non-White American — Black, Hispanic, Asian, mixed-race, etc. — was 27. For Hispanics, the most common age was 11.
The charts accompanying the article show that most White residents of the U.S. are older than the country’s median age, while most Asian, Black and Hispanic residents are younger. “Whites make up 52 percent of the population under the median age — and two-thirds of the population over it.”
The article notes–almost gratuitously, since most of us know it–that the people who are aging are those most likely to be voting Republican. As the report concludes,
It’s easy to see how this percolates into the political and cultural conversations. We have a heavily White older population that is competing for power and resources — like funding for schools or senior centers — with a more-diverse younger population. We have a partisan divide that overlaps with the age divide. We have explicit and implicit political appeals that center on the country’s changed demography.
In other words, we are at a point in America’s trajectory where demographic change is too obvious to ignore. That awareness helps explain the eruption of more explicit racism, as an older White age cohort tries frantically to hold onto its diminishing social dominance.
If we step back a bit to view the ebb and flow in historical context, it seems very likely that–once these older White Americans have passed away–our politics will calm down and settle into a new, (hopefully more equitable) normal. The danger, however, lies in what we might think of as the “death rattle” of an aging and angry elderly White Christian cohort.
The 2024 elections will tell that tale. If the nearly departed can install Trump and his ilk–in Indiana, Braun and Banks (both of whom have enthusiastically endorsed Trump)–they will continue on their merry way: arming the unhappy, forcing women to give birth, and awarding judgeships to partisans who will cheerfully dismantle the protections of the Bill of Rights. Embedding those policies for yet another term will make it difficult if not impossible for demographics to save us. If there is no Blue wave in 2024, demographic “destiny” will take a lot longer–assuming it can be achieved at all.
I sure hope the Democrats are working hard on getting out the vote……