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A Growing Mosaic: Changing Demographics Across the U.S.

As the makeup of our nation changes dramatically, journalists must better understand their readers—especially the rising Millennial generation.

When it comes to the demographics of the U.S., Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center, is an expert. During his keynote speech on July 12, 2014, the final day of the AAN Convention 2014 in Nashville, TN, he presented his research to attendees at the Sheraton Hotel. “Demographic change is a drama in slow motion,” he said, “putting stress on our families, social cohesion, finances and policies.”

As journalists, we need to understand the changing demographics of our readers better and how they navigate the world, based on age, gender, race, ethnicity and social norms.

Since 1960, more than 40 million people have immigrated into the U.S. By 2050, at least 80 percent of our country’s labor force will comprise immigrants and their children. Our nation’s majority population is non-white, and a large portion of our population is aging. Every day between now and the year 2030, 10,000 Baby Boomers are turning age 65. In addition, people are waiting longer to have children, and fertility rates have dropped by half in the past century. These dramatic shifts in our population will inevitably affect who our readers are, and how they prefer to receive news. Highlights of Taylor’s extensive demographics research is as follows:

1960 – Makeup of U.S. Population
85% White
10% Black
4% Hispanic
1% Other

2060 – Estimated Makeup of U.S. Population
43% White
31% Hispanic
13% Black
8% Asian
5% Other

Life Expectancy Rates
1900: Age 49
2009: Age 79
2060: Estimated – Age 100+

Ratio of Workers to Social Security Beneficiaries
1960: 5.1 workers per 1 retiree
2010: 3 to 1
2030*: Estimated – 2 to 1
* = By the year 2030, experts estimate that Medicare and Social Security programs will consume more than half of the national budget. The programs will run out of money in about 18 years.

Highlights of Our Four Living Generations

Silents: Age 69–86

  • Born 1928­–1945
  • Most financially secure
  • Have the safety net of Social Security
  • Conservative
  • Uncomfortable with shifts in technology, culture and demographics
  • 65% married between age 18–32

Baby Boomers: Age 50–68

  • Born 1946–1964
  • Played role in the countercultural 1960s
  • Born after WWII and before birth control methods became popular
  • 48% married between age 18–32

Generation X-ers: Age 34–49

  • Born 1965–1980
  • Children of Reagan and the divorce revolution
  • Distrustful of institutions and government
  • Known as “Latch-key kids”
  • Many come from broken homes
  • More comfortable with racial diversity
  • Socially liberal; economically conservative
  • 36% married between age 18–32

Millennials: Age 18–33

  • Born after 1980
  • Slow to marry or have kids
  • Less religiously or politically affiliated
  • “Digital natives” who grew up on technology (cell phones and the Internet)
  • Highly educated but mostly poor
  • Raised by overprotective “helicopter parents”
  • Distrustful of others (81% say most people can’t be trusted)
  • Live in a world of school shootings, cyber attacks, global terrorism, online predators, etc.
  • A high percentage are racial and ethnic minorities on a low socio-economic scale
  • Independent and liberal-minded
  • They vote heavily democratic
  • They take much longer in life to reach traditional adult milestones such as marriage or having children, due to tough economic challenges (few jobs; low salaries)
  • Turn to longstanding cohabitations (living with boy/girlfriends)
  • Impact of delayed marriages: 41% of children born out of wedlock to single mothers age 20–30
  • Despite difficult economic situations, they are still optimistic
  • 26% married between age 18–32

How Millennials Navigate Their World

  • Facebook is their essential platform for social interaction
  • 55% have shared a “selfie” (i.e., “The ‘Look at Me’ Generation”)
  • They were raised with the idea that within three clicks and a smartphone, you can have the sum of all human information at your fingertips.

Millennials’ Unemployment Rate

With college education: 3.5%
Without college education: 12%

Median Net Worth of Households (as of 2011)

  • Silents: $173,439
  • Boomers: $118,426
  • Gen X: $30,920
  • Millennials: $4,151

o   “This generation of young adults is doing worse than their parents and grandparents (economically),” Taylor said.

As a Millennial myself, I must agree with Taylor’s insight into my generation. However, further research needs to be done into the reading and buying habits of Millennials as they eventually reach the traditional milestones of their adult lives (getting jobs and having families), and we—as journalists—will need to closely pay attention as the next generation, which Taylor lovingly refers to as the Mosaics, grows up and becomes our next generation of readers and consumers.

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