SEPTEMBER 28, 2015
Immigration since 1965 has swelled the nation’s foreign-born population from 9.6 million then to a record 45 million in 2015.1 (The current immigrant population is lower than the 59 million total who arrived since 1965 because of deaths and departures from the U.S.)2By 2065, the U.S. will have 78 million immigrants, according to the new Pew Research population projections.
The nation’s immigrant population increased sharply from 1970 to 2000, though the rate of growth has slowed since then. Still, the U.S. has—by far—the world’s largest immigrant population, holding about one-in-five of the world’s immigrants (Connor, Cohn and Gonzalez-Barrera, 2013).
Between 1965 and 2015, new immigrants, their children and their grandchildren accounted for 55% of U.S. population growth. They added 72 million people to the nation’s population as it grew from 193 million in 1965 to 324 million in 2015.
This fast-growing immigrant population also has driven the share of the U.S. population that is foreign born from 5% in 1965 to 14% today and will push it to a projected record 18% in 2065. Already, today’s 14% foreign-born share is a near historic record for the U.S., just slightly below the 15% levels seen shortly after the turn of the 20th century. The combined population share of immigrants and their U.S.-born children, 26% today, is projected to rise to 36% in 2065, at least equaling previous peak levels at the turn of the 20th century.
The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act made significant changes to U.S. immigration policy by sweeping away a long-standing national origins quota system that favored immigrants from Europe and replacing it with one that emphasized family reunification and skilled immigrants. At the time, relatively few anticipated the size or demographic impact of the post-1965 immigration flow (Gjelten, 2015). In absolute numbers, the roughly 59 million immigrants who arrived in the U.S. between 1965 and 2015 exceed those who arrived in the great waves of European-dominated immigration during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Between 1840 and 1889, 14.3 million immigrants came to the U.S., and between 1890 and 1919, an additional 18.2 million arrived (see Table 1 for details).
After the replacement of the nation’s European-focused origin quota system, greater numbers of immigrants from other parts of the world began to come to the U.S. Among immigrants who have arrived since 1965, half (51%) are from Latin America and one-quarter are from Asia. By comparison, both of the U.S. immigration waves in the mid-19th century and early 20th century consisted almost entirely of European immigrants.
Latin American and Asian Immigration Since 1965 Changes U.S. Racial and Ethnic Makeup
As a result of its changed makeup and rapid growth, new immigration since 1965 has altered the nation’s racial and ethnic composition. In 1965, 84% of Americans were non-Hispanic whites. By 2015, that share had declined to 62%. Meanwhile, the Hispanic share of the U.S. population rose from 4% in 1965 to 18% in 2015. Asians also saw their share rise, from less than 1% in 1965 to 6% in 2015.
The Pew Research analysis shows that without any post-1965 immigration, the nation’s racial and ethnic composition would be very different today: 75% white, 14% black, 8% Hispanic and less than 1% Asian.
The arrival of so many immigrants slightly reduced the nation’s median age, the age at which half the population is older and half is younger. The U.S. population’s median age in 1965 was 28 years, rising to 38 years in 2015 and a projected 42 years in 2065. Without immigration since 1965, the nation’s median age would have been slightly older—41 years in 2015; without immigration from 2015 to 2065, it would be a projected 45 years.
By 2065, the composition of the nation’s immigrant population will change again, according to Pew Research projections. In 2015, 47% of immigrants residing in the U.S. are Hispanic, but as immigration from Latin America, especially Mexico (Passel, Cohn and Gonzalez-Barrera, 2012), has slowed in recent years, the share of the foreign born who are Hispanic is expected to fall to 31% by 2065. Meanwhile, Asian immigrants are projected to make up a larger share of all immigrants, becoming the largest immigrant group by 2055 and making up 38% of the foreign-born population by 2065. (Hispanics will remain a larger share of the nation’s overall population.) Pew Research projections also show that black immigrants and white immigrants together will become a slightly larger share of the nation’s immigrants by 2065 than in 2015 (29% vs. 26%).
The country’s overall population will feel the impact of these shifts. Non-Hispanic whites are projected to become less than half of the U.S. population by 2055 and 46% by 2065. No racial or ethnic group will constitute a majority of the U.S. population. Meanwhile, Hispanics will see their population share rise to 24% by 2065 from 18% today, while Asians will see their share rise to 14% by 2065 from 6% today.