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[Excerpt] The United States, the third most populous country globally, accounts for about 4.5% of the world’s population. The U.S. population—currently estimated at 308.7 million persons—has more than doubled since its 1950 level of 152.3 million. More than just being double in size, the population has become qualitatively different from what it was in 1950. As noted by the Population Reference Bureau, “The U.S. is getting bigger, older, and more diverse.” The objective of this report is to highlight some of the demographic changes that have already occurred since 1950 and to illustrate how these and future trends will reshape the nation in the decades to come (through 2050).

The United States Is Getting Bigger. U.S. population growth is due to the trends over time in the interplay of increased births, decreased deaths, and increased net immigration.

The United States Is Getting Older. Aside from the total size, one of the most important demographic characteristics of a population for public policy is its age and sex structure. This report illustrates how the United States has been in the midst of a profound demographic change: the rapid aging of its population, as reflected by an increasing proportion of persons aged 65 and older, and an increasing median age in the population.

The United States Is Becoming More Racially and Ethnically Diverse, reflecting the major influence that immigration has had on both the size and the age structure of the U.S. population. This section considers the changing profile of the five major racial groups in the United States. In addition, trends in the changing ethnic composition of the Hispanic or Latino Origin population are discussed.

Although this report will not specifically discuss policy options to address the changing demographic profile, it is important to recognize that the inexorable demographic momentum will have important implications for the economic and social forces that will shape future societal well-being. There is ample reason to believe that the United States will be able to cope with the current and projected demographic changes if policymakers accelerate efforts to address and adapt to the changing population profile as it relates to a number of essential domains, such as work, retirement, and pensions; private wealth and income security; the federal budget and intergenerational equity; health, healthcare, and health spending; and the health and well-being of the aging population. These topics, among others, are discussed briefly in the final section of this report. This report will be updated as needed.


Suggested Citation

Shrestha, L. B. & Heisler, E. J. (2011). The changing demographic profile of the United States [Electronic version]. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.