Our Population Has Grown by 100 Million People Since 1980, But Growth is Slowing

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In July 2018, the Census Bureau estimated the American population to be 327,167,434. This was an increase of 2,020,313 people since July 2017 from 3,855,500 births, 2,814,013 deaths, and 978,826 net new immigrants. Total population is increasing by an average of 1% yearly, while the total number of deaths are increasing at the same annual average rate, births have, on average, shown no annual rate increase since 1980. As a result, in 2018, the rate of population growth was slower than any year as far back as 1980. In addition, the population change was nearly evenly split between “natural” population change (births minus deaths) and by net immigration (people coming to the country minus people leaving), a shift from 1990 when three-quarters of the change was from births minus deaths (Fig. 2).

Following this trend, an increasing percentage of our population is foreign-born (13.7%), up from a low point of 4.7% in 1970. This population makeup is not new for the US; however, as from 1860-1910, the percent of the foreign-born population oscillated between 13% and 15%.

Our population is getting older with the median age in 2017 reaching 38 years compared to 30 years in 1980. As births remain steady despite population growth, children under 18 make up a smaller percentage of the population today than they did in 1980, while the population over 65 years old makes up a higher proportion (Fig. 3).

Today, there are 4.1 working-age Americans to every person over 65, down from 5.7 in 1980, a consequential shift for payroll tax-funded programs for the elderly such as Social Security and Medicare.

The average American today looks and lives differently than they did 30 years ago. Today, 61% of the population is non-Hispanic White, down from 76% in 1990 (Fig. 4). Meanwhile, the Hispanic and Asian populations have doubled as a percentage of the total over that time. The Census added the "other race" category and the option to report multiple races in 2000 when about 4 million Americans identified themselves as such. That number more than doubled to nearly 8.7 million, or 2.7% of the population, in 2017.

Today 35% of Americans over age 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, an increase from 20% in 1990 (Fig. 5). An additional 10% of the population over 25 has an associate’s degree. The population with less than a high school degree has dropped, from a quarter in 1990 to about one-tenth in 2017. Educational attainment differs by race and ethnicity, with Asian and non-Hispanic Whites more likely to have finished four years of college than the Black or Hispanic populations (Fig. 6).

Larger proportions of Americans are living in the South and West (Fig. 7), 38% and 24% of the total population in 2018 respectively (up five percentage points each since 1980.) Although the South remains the most populous region, the West has moved from the least populated region of the US to the second most populous region in the last 38 years. 

Next: More Americans Are Living Alone, and Fewer Have Kids