The United States grew significantly more diverse over the past decade, as the populations of people who identify as Hispanic and Asian surged and the number of people who said they were more than one race increased, the Census Bureau reported on Thursday.
Overall population growth slowed dramatically over the past decade. The growth that did occur — an increase of about 23 million people — was made up entirely of people who identified as Hispanic, Asian, Black, and more than one race, according to the data, the first racial and ethnic breakdown from the 2020 census.
The white population in the United States, for the first time on record, declined over the course of the decade. People who identify themselves as white on the census form have been decreasing as a share of the country’s population since the 1960s when the United States opened up more widely to immigrants outside Europe.
That drop was driven in part by the aging of the white population and a sharp drop in the birthrate.
The single biggest increase was among people who identified as more than one race, a category that first appeared on census forms 20 years ago, and now is the fastest-growing racial and ethnic category. That population more than doubled.
“We are in a weird time demographically,” said Tomás Jiménez, a sociologist at Stanford who writes about immigrants, assimilation, and social mobility. “There’s more choice about our individual identities and how we present them than there has ever been. We can presume far less about who somebody is based on the boxes they check compared to previous periods.”
Thursday’s numbers are this census’s first picture of changes in the American population below the level of states.
The top five largest cities in the country are now New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Phoenix. Philadelphia is now the sixth-largest city, bumped from fifth by Phoenix, which was the fastest-growing of the top 20 largest cities. Its population rose by 9.4 percent.
The Villages, a retirement community in Florida, is the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the country. And McKenzie County, N.D., was the fastest-growing county over the past decade. Its population more than doubled.
The data offered the most detailed picture of race in America since the last decennial census in 2010, —and they are also the basis for redistricting, a process in which state legislatures redraw voting lines based on changes in their states’ populations.
The increase in the numbers of people who identify as Asian and Hispanic was less dramatic than in previous decades, but still much more robust than the increase in the number of Americans who checked the box for white or Black.
The new data show that Hispanics accounted for about half the country’s growth over the past decade, up by about 23 percent. The Asian population grew faster than expected — up by about 36 percent, a rise that made up nearly a fifth of the country’s total.
Nearly 1 in 4 Americans now identify themselves as either Hispanic or Asian. The Black population grew by 6 percent, an increase that represented about a tenth of the country’s growth. Americans who identified as non-Hispanic and more than one race rose the fastest, jumping to 13.5 million from 6 million.
And in what appears to be a big shift in how Hispanics think of their racial identity, one-third of Hispanics reported being more than one race, up from just 6 percent in 2010. That means that Hispanics are now nearly twice as likely to identify as multi-racial than as white.
Hispanic origin is counted as ethnicity and is a distinct category from the race. But Hispanics can also check race boxes.
The nation has been growing more diverse for decades, but recently the pace has accelerated. Non-Hispanic white people accounted for 46 percent of population growth in the 1970s, 36 percent in the 1980s, 20 percent in the 1990s, but just 8 percent of the growth in the first decade of this century, and zero in the 2010s.
“This is a pivotal moment for the country in terms of its diversity,” said William Frey, chief demographer at the Brookings Institution. “Part of our population is aging and slow-growing. To counter that, we have people of color who are younger and growing more rapidly. They are helping to propel us further into a century where diversity is going to be the signature of our demography.”