The big picture: The slow demographic shifts we’ve watched over decades will finally reach a tipping point in the 2040s. They’ll transform what America looks like, where we live and what we fear.
Here is how fast America is changing: By the time today’s teenagers hit their 30s, there will be — for the first time ever — more minorities than whites, more old people than children, and more people practicing Islam than Judaism.
What we will look like
We’ll be older and less white in the 2040s.
- Only 45% of 30-year-olds will be non-Hispanic whites in 2040. And minorities will become the majority in the U.S. by 2045, according to Census projections.
- There will be more old people than children for the first time because of the falling fertility rates, the Census data shows. More than 1 in 5 Americans will be over the age of 65, putting a new level of stress on the nation’s Social Security and health care systems.
- Immigrants will make up a record-breaking share of the population and will have a crucial role in carrying the economic load created by the elderly Boomers and Gen X-ers.
Why it matters: The white evangelical and non-college male voters who helped propel Donald Trump to the presidency will likely be losing their power. But having minorities in the majority doesn’t necessarily mean racial discrimination and inequality embedded in laws, society and power structures will disappear. That’s going to be an ongoing conversation, and an increasingly urgent one.
What we will believe
Islam will have surpassed Judaism as the second most popular religion in the U.S. by 2040, according to the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project. The majority share of Christians will be falling.
- Nearly 1 in 4 Americans will be unaffiliated with religion, including 30% of 30-to-44 year olds. In 2010, just 18% of the same age group was unaffiliated.
- Globally, there will be just as many 30-to-44 year old Muslims as Christians of the same age.
Where we will live
- The vast majority of the U.S. population (87%) will live in urban areas, according to UN projections. The nation’s cities will likely continue to accumulate all the power, technology and wealth, while rural areas fall behind.
- Think about this:
Just 20 years ago, less than half the world lived in urban areas, but in another 20 years close to two-thirds of the world population will live in cities.
What we will fear
30 year-olds and almost half of Americans in 2040 will have been born after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, but the young adults of the future will remember Parkland, Las Vegas and Orlando.
- In place of foreign terrorist attacks, publicized acts of domestic terrorism will be ingrained in young adults’ memory.
- Most veterans from the Vietnam era or before will be gone, according to the VA, but Russia’s cyber tampering in U.S. and global elections will be clearly remembered.
- Global average sea levels will be up to a foot higher than today, and the global average surface temperature will be near the 2-degree Celsius (3.6F) guardrail set by the Paris Climate Agreement.
- According to multiple studies, summer sea ice may completely disappear from the Arctic by 2040.
- Technology and human behavior will be even more intertwined: 70% of relationships could begin online via companies collecting troves of personal data, according to research by eHarmony. And our brains might be uploaded to the internet, if Elon Musk gets his way.
- Today, members of Congress struggle to grasp how Facebook works. In the future, they’ll be faced with even more complex regulatory and ethical problems in a world of artificial intelligence, advanced genetic modification technology and automated vehicles.
In 2040, 30-year-olds along with 40% of the U.S. population will have been born after the iPhone was introduced,according to Census projections. Their entire lives will be documented by social media, which has been linked to the currently skyrocketing rates of anxiety, depression and suicide.
What we will accomplish
- By 2040, both China and India will have long surpassed the U.S.’s overall GDP, according to OECD data. But GDP per capita will still be higher in the U.S. — at around $86K, up from $63K today, according to long-term projected growth rates and Census population projections.
- An American child born in the U.S. will be expected to live to 83 years old, according to UN projections — 5 years longer than today’s life expectancy at birth.
- Only 3 of every 1,000 American births are projected to end in infant death — half the most recent rate, according to the UN.
- The fertility rate will stabilize, and if current trends continue, the youth of 2040 will be more educated than ever.
The bottom line: Projections are never perfect. An event like the internet or 9/11 in the next several years could completely uproot the future we see. But it’s already clear that the current rate of human advancement is turning the world we know upside down.
A $15 per hour minimum wage has become a national U.S. rallying cry from workers seeking middle-class security. But while double the current minimum, $15 has its own limitations — and risks uncontemplated social consequences.
Why it matters: A $15 wage may be enough to buy a small home in some parts of the U.S., and will increase the living standards of millions of Americans. But what’s apparent on the map above is that it is barely sufficient for a studio apartment in the big cities, and it could upset workers already earning $15 and more.
Driving the news: In 2019, New Jersey, Illinois and Maryland have enacted laws to bring the minimum wage up to $15 in the near future. Major cities like New York, Seattle and San Francisco had previously done so, as have major corporations like Amazon and Disney. These moves have made $15 the target across the country, but they also create new expectations that employers must consider.
Take El Centro, a city close to the Mexican border in California, where the median wage is $14.76, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because of El Centro’s lower prices, the purchasing power of $15 there actually comes to about $16.80, according to a government formula that reconciles the geographic value of wages from city to city.
- But nursing assistants in El Centro already are paid a median wage of $15.07 an hour.
- Now, they will be earning the same as fast-food cooks.
- So unless the wages of nurses and professionals like them go up as well, they could start their own outcry, says Michael Saltsman, managing director of the Employment Policies Institute, a fiscally conservative DC think tank.
Chart: The average marriage age since 1980
Young people around the world are delaying marriage and children and embracing a new life stage of singleness marked by budding careers, hip urban areas, adult roommates and dating around.
U.S. population growth will increasingly depend on immigration
American women are having fewer babies than ever, according to recent CDC data.
Between the lines: Even with low fertility rates, the overall population — along with GDP — will continue to grow until at least 2050, according to the Census projections. But this growth will increasingly rely on immigration.
- Immigration already accounted for almost half of population growth in the U.S. last year, and it is expected to become the biggest driver of population growth in 2030, according to the Census Bureau.
Fertility rates tend to fall in response to a bad economy.
- In the 1970s — as baby boomers entered the workforce, the pill and IUDs became more common, abortion was legalized, the oil shock hit and the economy struggled — the total fertility rate plummeted to levels near what we have today.
- But it the late 1980s and onward during economic growth, it climbed to stay near replacement levels (2.1 births per woman), making the U.S. somewhat of an anomaly among developed economies, according to Global Aging Institute president Richard Jackson.
But during the current economic boom, fertility rates have been falling.
- High costs of education, stagnant wages and more women working and delaying childbirth have all contributed, Richard Cincotta, director of the Global Political Demography Program at the Stimson Center, told Axios.
- Whether fertility rates recover with the economy often depends on people’s long-term expectations about future living standards, according to Jackson. “That’s been seriously eroded since the Great Recession among millennials,” he said. “They’re not responding to the near-term economy because confidence in the long-term economy has been seriously dented.”
What to watch: If fertility rates remain low or fall further, there could be fewer people entering the workforce in the future and GDP growth could slow, demographers say. Maintaining high levels of immigration could become even more important.
Where populations are booming and shrinking
Families have been shrinking and population growth has been slowing in most nations over the past several decades, according to World Bank data.
Why it matters: Labor shortages, strained elderly care systems and slowed economic growth could all follow if birth rates remain below replacement levels for a long period of time, demographers warn.
Populations change slowly, humans are living longer and many rich countries still attract lots of immigrants. So despite almost half of countries around the world having birth rates below the level needed to replace current generations, most of those populations are still growing.
- Even with decades of a one-child policy and little immigration, China’s population is still managing to grow. That is expected to end in 2026, according to U.S. Census Bureau projections.
Yes but: We’re already starting to see impacts. Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Japan, Ukraine and 17 other nations are already watching their populations decline, according to the 2017 data.
- Low birth rates have been a factor in the state of Europe’s economy, Richard Cincotta, director of the Global Political Demography Program at the Stimson Center, told Axios.
- Japan is struggling with a critical labor shortage, forcing them to accept more foreign workers.
- Governments in Japan, Germany, Singapore and other nations have rolled out policies that incentivize having more babies.
What to watch: Immigration could become increasingly important to boosting low fertility nations’ populations and sustaining GDP growth. These immigrants could come from places like Niger, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo and other nations with booming populations. Much would depend on the willingness of governments and communities to welcome more foreigners into their workforces and societies.
On the other hand, with new, emerging technologies, “future economies will probably not need as many workers as they once did,” Cincotta said.
- A future, smaller workforce could lead to higher wages, Global Aging Institute president Richard Jackson said, but taxes would also likely rise to help cover the costs of caring for larger retired generations living longer than ever.
- And some aging economies with highly skilled workforces, such as in South Korea (which has a very small population of immigrants) and Germany, are doing just fine so far.
The bottom line: Just before the fertility rates plummeted in the ’70s, there was spreading concern for overpopulation. Demographic shifts are slow, and the downward trend we’re seeing now could still reverse itself, but “each year that goes by with new data showing no rise — or even a decline, as we saw this year — makes a more fundamental shift more likely,” Jackson said.