(February 2006) Significant changes have taken place over the last decade in the racial and ethnic composition of births in the United States. Latinos (also known as Hispanics) are now accounting for an increasing share of U.S. births, while major racial and ethnic groups account for a decreasing share. These trends mean that, by 2030, one in every five U.S. residents will be Latino.

Although the significant rise of Latino births has taken place across the country, the most dramatic increases have occurred in new destination states for Latinos. While these states (primarily in the Midwest and South) have historically had relatively few Latinos, their growing numbers of jobs in agriculture, construction, and meat processing are now attracting Latinos, especially Mexicans. Shifting birth patterns, especially in new-destination areas, will increase the numbers of Latinos in both the educational system and the labor force of the United States; they will also require new policymaking and investment strategies in order to take full advantage of these trends.

A Younger Latino Population and Continued High Fertility Translate Into More Births

The U.S. total fertility rate (or TFR, the average number of children per woman) has remained fairly stable over the last decade at an average of about two children per woman. The TFRs for both Latinos and blacks diverged slightly from that of whites, with Latino and black women having fewer children on average while white women averaged slightly more (see Table 1).


Total Fertility Rates for Hispanics, African Americans, and White Non-Hispanics, 1993 and 2003

Group
Year
1993
2003
Hispanics
2.89
2.79
African Americans
2.41
2.03
White Non-Hispanics
1.79
1.86

Source: T.J. Matthews et al., “Births of Hispanic Origin, 1989-95,” Monthly Vital Statistics Report 46, no. 6 (1998).


Despite the slight decline in the Latino fertility rate, however, births increased significantly because Hispanics are younger and have a higher fertility level than white and African American women.1 On average, Latinas still have nearly one more birth over their lifetimes than do white and black women. Moreover, among women in their childbearing years (ages 15-44), a greater portion of Latinas in 2000 (36 percent) were in their 20s (an age band associated with peak levels of fertility) compared with white (29 percent) and African American (32 percent) women.

These dynamics meant that the number of births to Hispanic women in the United States increased by 39 percent between 1993 and 2003, compared to an overall increase of only 2 percent among all births in the country during the same period. Indeed, the share of births in the United States to Latinas increased noticeably between 1993 and 2003, from 16 percent to 22 percent. Meanwhile, the share of white births declined from 62 percent in 1993 to 57 percent in 2003, and that of African American births dropped from 16 percent to 14 percent.

All 50 States Had More Latino Births in 2003 Than in 1993

While 22 states and the District of Columbia saw declines in their total number of births between 1993 and 2003, all states and the District had increases in Latino births between 1993 and 2003. And many of the increases were quite significant. The number of Latino births at least doubled between 1993 and 2003 in 27 states, almost all of which were new-destination areas for Latinos (see Figure 1). Indeed, new-destination states such as Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia had increases in Latino births of more than fivefold during the 10-year period.


Figure 1
States Showing At Least A Doubling of Latino Births, 1993-2003

Source: T.J. Matthews et al., “Births of Hispanic Origin, 1989-95,” Monthly Vital Statistics Report 46, no. 6 (1998); and Joyce A. Martin et al., “Births: Final Data for 2003,” National Vital Statistics Reports 54, no. 2 (2005).


Furthermore, the share of births that were Latino increased in all states over the same period, rising by at least 7 percentage points in 16 states and by at least 10 percentage points in Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina, Arizona, and Georgia. The increasing share of Latino births in the United States reflects the aging of the white population, the youthful age structure of the Latino population, the relatively high fertility rates of Latinos, and the continuing inmigration of young Latinos. (See Figure 2 for a comparison of Hispanic and white non-Hispanic shares of total births in six states in 1993 and 2003.)


Figure 2
Percent Live Births in Selected U.S. States to Hispanic Women and Non-Hispanic White Women, 1993 and 2003.

1993   2003

Source: T.J. Matthews et al., “Births of Hispanic Origin, 1989-95,” Monthly Vital Statistics Report 46, no. 6 (1998); and Joyce A. Martin et al., “Births: Final Data for 2003,” National Vital Statistics Reports 54, no. 2 (2005).


Meanwhile, Latinos accounted for approximately one-half of all 2003 births in states that have been hubs for Latinos such as New Mexico, California, and Texas. And Latinos made up at least one-fifth of all births in seven other states in 2003: Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York. None of these states are new-destination areas for Latinos, reflecting their longer presence in these locations and their larger absolute size.

An Increasing Latino Presence Among Youths and in the Work Force

Even with further reductions in the Latino fertility rate, the youthful age structure of the U.S. Latino population means their share of births in this country will increase over the coming decades—a phenomenon known as demographic momentum. While Latinos accounted for roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population in 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau projects they will make up 20 percent by 2030.2

These trends also mean that Latinos will be increasingly prevalent among U.S. youths and entrants into the labor force in the near future, with new-destination areas experiencing the most rapid changes. The consequences of these changes for society and policymaking will be great, because Latino youth have many unique needs.

For example, Latinos (especially Mexicans, the largest Latino subgroup) have the lowest levels of education of any U.S. group, with Latino youths having the highest school dropout rates.3 It is essential that Latino youths have the opportunity to complete their education. The failure to provide such opportunities will have long-term consequences, given that this country will increasingly be dependent on Latino workers in a progressively technological and global economy. Young Latino workers will be increasingly called upon to support the health, service, and economic needs of an increasingly aging U.S. population, one in which the elderly will be disproportionately white.

New-destination areas could face the most difficult challenges in educating Latino youths, given the newness of Latinos to those areas. But existing educational models may be useful to educators and community leaders of new-destination areas. In Dalton, Ga., for instance, educators and business leaders have worked together with their counterparts in Monterrey, Mexico to enhance the educational opportunities of Latino students in Dalton through the creation of the Georgia Project.4 The project established a bilingual education curriculum, brought graduates from a university in Monterrey to Dalton as bilingual instructors, developed an adult education and leadership program for Latinos in Dalton, and created a summer institute in Monterrey for Dalton teachers to learn Spanish and Mexican history and culture.

The relatively high rates of fertility among young U.S.-born Mexican-origin women is another challenge, and one attributable in part to closed opportunity structures. The absence of alternatives to young motherhood places young Latinas in routes that are commonly associated with long-term poverty. Again, education represents the key to opening opportunity structures for these youths. Women with greater levels of education tend to marry later, give birth later, and to have fewer children than those with lower levels of education.

Latinos will continue to have a rising impact on social institutions across the United States—as producers, deliverers, and consumers of goods and services. Investments in the education and human capital development of Latino youths today are essential if the country is to take full advantage of coming economic opportunities.


Rogelio Saenz is a professor of sociology at Texas A&M University and author of “Latinos and the Changing Face of America,” in The American People: Census 2000, ed. Reynolds Farley and John Haaga (New York: The Russell Sage Foundation, 2005).


References

  1. Data for the analysis are obtained from the following two sources: T.J. Matthews et al., “Births of Hispanic Origin, 1989-95,” Monthly Vital Statistics Report 46, no. 6 (1998); and Joyce A. Martin et al., “Births: Final Data for 2003,” National Vital Statistics Reports 54, no. 2 (2005).
  2. U.S. Census Bureau, “Projections of the Resident Population by Race, Hispanic Origin, and Nativity: Middle Series, 1999 to 2100,” accessed online at www.census.gov, on Feb. 10, 2004.
  3. For an overview of the Latino school dropout literature and dropout rates, see William Velez and Rogelio Saenz, “Toward a Comprehensive Model of the School Leaving Process among Latinos,” School Psychology Quarterly 16, no. 4 (2001): 445-67.
  4. Rubén Hernandez-Léon and Victor Zuñiga, “Mexican Immigrant Communities in the South and Social Capital: The Case of Dalton, Georgia,” Southern Rural Sociology 19, no. 1 (2003): 20-45.