What Will America Look Like in 2050?

By Brian Summerfield, Online Editor, REALTOR® Magazine

The population of the United States at the mid-century mark will have been shaped by major demographic shifts that are already underway, according to Dr. William H. Frey, a demographer and senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy organization.

Frey, who spoke at the Mortgage Bankers 2011 Conference & Expo last week, used 2010 census data to identify the following trends as central to understanding what America will look like in 2050:

  • By 2042 at the latest, the U.S. will reach a “tipping point,” at which the white American majority becomes a plurality.
  • Hispanic Americans, who accounted for more than half of all U.S. population growth from 2000-2009 and about 16 percent of the overall population, will still be the second-largest racial/ethnic group in the country. However, Latinos will have for a much larger share of the population in 2050, possibly more than one-third of the total.
  • Americans will continue to migrate south and west. Many of these will be African-Americans, largely reversing the “Great Migration” of the early 20th Century. However, more immigrants will opt for major metros on the coasts.

As a result of these and other developments, Frey identified the following three emerging “demographic regions” in the United States:

Melting Pot America (includes California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, and Hawaii): This non-contiguous “region,” which is currently 51 percent white, will see declines in American-born residents, but dramatic increases in its immigrant population. More than 20 percent of people living in these states already speak a language other than English in their homes. “Magnet” areas include New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago.

The New Sunbelt (includes Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona): This fast-growing region, which can be geographically divided into the eastern and mid-South and Mountain West, will have the largest gains in domestic migration, as well as under-18 and over-65 age groups. It will also be where most of the traditional, “Ozzie and Harriet” new households will form, Frey said. “Magnet” areas include Phoenix, Atlanta, and Dallas.

The Heartland (includes the remaining states): This region, which is the “oldest and whitest,” will have the lowest levels of growth, and some states will actually lose people.

While major changes in the composition of the U.S. population aren’t uncommon, the transformations we’ll see in the coming years are without precedent in a couple of ways, Frey said. First, there’s the aging of America and the decline of the nuclear family. Less than half of all households today are married couples, and only about one-fifth have children, he explained, and these percentages will likely continue to fall.

Additionally, diversity that was previously limited to major urban centers will become more common in the suburbs, Frey said. Right now, just 65 percent of the suburban U.S. population is white (which is actually less than the approximately 72 percent of whites who make up the overall U.S. population), and more than half of all minority groups are residents of suburbs.

Are you seeing examples of any of the trends above in your area? How is it impacting your business?

Brian Summerfield

Brian Summerfield is Manager of Business Development and Outreach for NAR Commercial and Global Services. He can be reached at bsummerfield@realtors.org.

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  1. What a refreshing article. it is nice to see someone else looking into the future. I concur very much with this article. the Local U.S (baby boomers), etc they want to re locate to the waterfront communities as well as Golf and or mountain communities. They are now looking for lifestyles.
    Foreign investors continue to seek out cash flow and potential capitol Growth. These areas you mention are within their target So i believe your outlook is very accurate.

  2. Trish Kraus

    I have found that you are correct in saying that “major urban centers will become more common in the suburbs”. This transistion is about fifty percent complete. Looking into 2050 the suburbs will be like the major urban centers. Crime has hit like a huge wave. Distruction of property has followed with many many vacant properties.
    This does not look optimistic speaking someone in the suburbs in the same home for over 27 years. Owning a business in a major urban center for over 17 years.
    Metro Detroit

  3. Nick Ertz

    Good article and it adds more support to the idea of moving abroad. We’re relocating to Australia at the end of the year, we see this nation on the wrong path and until/unless things change the US will soon be a broke, in debt third world nation.

  4. Agree with Nick above !! However not so easy just to move outside of the country when you have so many pieces of wood burning in the fires !