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Chapter 7: Social Aspects

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In this chapter, we review the relationships between population change and several key aspects of our society. A distinctive feature of a population that is not growing is its relative abundance of old people and its relative scarcity of youth. We explore what further shifts in this direction may imply for the society at large, and the kinds of issues that seem likely to arise with regard to the status of the aged.

Population changes take place through the family and in turn react upon it. As our basic institution, the family’s durability may reflect its flexibility in response to transformations in the society around it. We examine recent changes in the family, looking at the connections between family behavior and population change, and what social changes may imply for the responsibilities of family members.

Many expressions of concern over the effects of population growth include references to a sense that life is becoming more crowded and congested. We therefore examine the concept of population density, and how density relates to other factors that influence the character of modern life.

Finally, we show how the status of the socially and economically excluded racial and ethnic minorities in our society is reflected in their fertility and their mortality; and how achieving the goals of social justice and total inclusion into the mainstream for these groups will enhance the American future and will serve the ends of positive population policy as well.


Age Structure

Because of a history of relatively high birthrates in the United States, our population has characteristically been “young” compared with that of many European countries. Over time, however, our population has been growing “older” because of the long-term downward trend of the birthrate. Although this trend was interrupted by the postwar baby boom, the decline in the birthrate since then has caused the proportion of the population in the childhood ages to become smaller again. As we have indicated, the effects of the baby boom will be apparent in our age structure throughout this century, as that generation moves into adulthood and the working ages, and in the next century when they join the ranks of the older citizens.

The future age structure of our population—the proportion of persons at each age—will be affected by future rates of fertility. The age structure that would result from the 2-child and 3-child levels of fertility can be seen in Table 7.1.


Table 7.1 Age Distributions, 1970 and 2000


Percent at Different Ages


Median Age (Years)


Under 18


65 & Over







2000 2-child family






2000 3-child family






Stabilized Population






Source:            U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, Series P-25, No. 470, “Projections of the Population of the United States by Age and Sex: 1970 to 2000.”


Figure 7.1 Age Distribution
Click to Enlarge

With the 2-child rate of growth throughout the rest of this century, the age structure would show a consistent pattern of becoming older; with the 3-child rate, the age structure would become slightly younger. The age structure that would result from indefinite persistence of a 2-child average—a stabilized population—would have a median age of 37. In such a population, the number and percentage of persons in each group would be roughly the same from birth to age 50 or 60; there would be nearly as many 50-year-olds as five-year-olds. Above age 60, the numbers would taper off rapidly because of the high death rates at the older ages.

What are the implications of an older population? Will changes in our social organization be required? Will the rate of social and technological change diminish? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a population whose age composition is dispersed evenly through the different age levels?

How we define “old” and “young” is always an arbitrary matter determined in large part by custom. Only at the lower and upper age ranges are the functions which people are able to perform clearly related to biological age. For example, it could be argued that a more appropriate delineation of the working age population would be 21 to 70, rather than 18 to 64 years. This would permit a longer period of schooling and training appropriate to the economy’s needs. Also, in a population with high longevity, health and vitality can be retained until older ages. Sweden, with an older age distribution than ours, places retirement at 70 rather than 65; India, with a much younger age structure, places it at 55.

One concern often expressed about an older age structure is that there will be a larger proportion of the population who are less adaptable to political and social change, thus suggesting the possibility of “social stagnation.” Others have suggested that Sweden and England, both of which have older age structures than ours, are not especially slow to change; but, it is difficult to generalize from particular cases. In any event, other factors, such as accumulated wealth and level of education, obscure the relationship between chronological age and resistance to change.’ For example, older generations typically grew up in an era of less education; this gap will narrow in the future.

Each new generation is a potential vehicle for introducing new patterns into the society.2 Younger people seem to feel fewer pressures towards conformity with adult patterns of thought and behavior. However, the extent of change or the direction it will take cannot be predicted. Not all new generations have been equally restive and desirous of major social and political change; and, where youth have been active agents of change, the direction of change advocated has sometimes been oppressive.

Some also speculate that an older population will diminish rapid job advancement because a larger proportion of the labor force will be in the older ages and will retain higher positions longer. In a stabilized population with low mortality, there would be 90 percent as many males and 94 percent as many females at age 50 as at age 20,3 in contrast to current figures of 63 and 69 percent.4

However, a projection of a stabilized age distribution assumes that zero population growth would be maintained with little fluctuation in the birthrate. Although such a population would be older on the average, in reality there could be considerable variation in birthrates around a long-term average yielding population replacement. This would result in age groups of different size and more variation in the age structure than is usually assumed under zero population growth. Indeed, with increasing individual control over fertility, the swings in the annual number of births might well be considerable.

Whether opportunities for individual advancement will in fact diminish will depend obviously on many factors besides age structure.5 And, in any event, whether a lower rate of occupational mobility is viewed with satisfaction or alarm is largely a matter of values.

Another concern with the changing age composition associated with lower birthrates is the rising proportion of those 65 and over who, many fear, will add to the burden on public funds to care for them. The next section of this report treats this subject more extensively.

In summary, we are led to the conclusion that the age structure of a population is unlikely to be decisive in the forms of social organization which emerge. And, as we have seen, there are many advantages of population stabilization which seem clearly to outweigh any fears of an older population.


The Aged

In 1970, there were 20 million persons 65 years old and over in the United States. With minor improvements in mortality, and with immigration at current levels, the number expected by the year 2000 is 29 million—a 43-percent increase in the number of these persons. For the remainder of this century and into the third decade of the next, the actual numbers in the older ages will be unaffected by future birthrates, for the people now in this group and those who will enter it during this interval are already alive. However, their proportion of the population will depend on future birthrates.

In 1900, about four percent of our population was 65 years of age and older.6 This proportion has continued to grow steadily during the century, reaching 9.8 percent by 1970. Lower birthrates in the future would further raise the proportion of people in this age group. If the population should grow at the 2-child rate, the proportion 65 and over would reach 10.6 percent by the end of this century. If the 2-child average prevailed until the population ultimately stabilized, the proportion in this age group would level off at approximately 16 percent—a rather considerable increase in this segment of the population. However, if the population grew at the 3-child rate, in the year 2000 the proportion would be 8.9 percent—less than it is now.

Public concern for the aged has focused largely on problems of money and health. Attention was first drawn to the problems of older people during the 1920’s and the early 1930’s when it became apparent that families and private sources of charity no longer provided sufficient support for the growing numbers of dependent aged, and when the hardships of the economic depression of the 1930’s fell disproportionately upon older workers. Similarly, concern with the health of older people gained momentum during this period, as increasing numbers of people reached the ages at which long-term illness is common, presenting new problems for medical and public health workers.7

Figure 7.2: Persons 65 and Over
Click to Enlarge

One consequence was the establishment of our social security system with subsequent extension of coverage and benefits to most aged people and the recent addition of medical care. Numerous public monetary benefits have also gradually been extended to the aged, including special income tax deductions. Also, greater public resources have been devoted to research in the chronic diseases, which primarily afflict people in the older ages, and to extension of services for the chronically ill. Pension plans have become more common, and benefits for those reaching retirement age have been critical bargaining issues for labor unions.

There are compelling reasons for the continued preoccupation of society with the income, employment, and health problems of the aged. Poverty is more prevalent among the elderly—especially among the aged in minority groups—than any other age group.8 Not all of those now in the older population were covered by the federal Old Age Survivors, Disability, and Health Insurance program (OASDHI) when they were in the work force. Furthermore, the levels of payment under retirement programs have, in many cases, been low and not sufficient to raise recipients above the poverty level.

In the future, the income position of the aged will most likely be improved, because more will be receiving benefits from private retirement funds, will have larger accumulated personal resources, and will be covered by government insurance plans. Much depends, of course, on our ability to control inflation. Some might argue that improving the income position of the disadvantaged before they reach old age would reduce their income deficits in later years. Thus, it may be decided that national priorities should be focused on the disadvantaged; for them, income deficits among the elderly, as among all age groups, are greatest, and improvements have been slowest in coming.

Health needs will continue to figure high on the list of needs of the older population: Not only will standards of health care increase; there will also be a change in the age composition of the older population. While the entire population 65 years old and over will rise 43 percent between 1970 and the year 2000, persons 75 to 84 will increase by 65 percent, and those 85 years and over by 52 percent. It is among these old people that chronic conditions (including impairments and disease) increase, limitations of activity become more prevalent, and institutionalized care is more often required. Females predominate, for their expectation of life exceeds that of males. As with income, the risks of poor health, limitation of activity, and institutionalization are greater among the disadvantaged segment of the elderly.

The aged are, however, a varied group, and not all have, or perceive themselves as having, severe income or health problems.9 Although their incomes and total wealth are smaller on the average, the variation in income among the aged is considerable. The elderly probably require less income and most probably expect, and accommodate to, some decline in vigor and health without much difficulty. Even so, the combination of old age with very low income and poor health is devastating.

Two sets of issues are likely to arise with increasing frequency as the number of very elderly grows. First, there are the issues of ethics, personal preference, and allocation of public expenditures connected with the prolongation of life. This set of issues, which is just beginning to receive public attention, has not been addressed by this Commission.

The second issue, more widely discussed, is. far from resolution. It involves the type of institutional care necessary for the elderly who can no longer be cared for at home. Only a small proportion of the population 65 years and over—five percent in 1970—are institutionalized,’° but the percentage among those 85 years and over is much larger. This institutionalized population is relatively disadvantaged in terms of health, social ties, and economic resources. To date, the prevailing image of institutional life is largely negative, and older people generally express greater aversion to it than either their relatives or the public at large.

A continuing problem of the aged in our society is finding socially valued roles.10 What is desirable behavior is less clearly defined for older people than at any other stage in the life cycle. For men, the situation first becomes critical at retirement. Previously, their life courses were more clearly charted. After school came entrance into the labor force; their status in society depended largely on occupational position. After retirement, however, their status, and thus the means for earning social esteem, becomes indeterminate at best.

For women, the loss of status has traditionally appeared earlier in the life cycle, when children left home and family functions diminished. However, a woman’s status in society has depended largely on that of her husband, even though she may also have been in the work force for all or part of the time since marriage. Regardless of employment, she typically maintained household and family roles which forestalled her feeling of “uselessness.”

Opportunities for the employment of men after age 65 are more favorable for those with higher educational levels, and for those in a few selected occupations. It remains to be seen whether patterns of compulsory retirement would be noticeably altered with slower population growth and smaller numbers of new entrants into the labor market. If the opportunities for advancement diminish in a population with a stabilized age distribution, the bargaining position of the aged would not appear to be strong. Also, increased participation of women in the work force may present additional competition for older workers. Finally, society feels little obligation to provide employment for older people because of income and health supports now established in private retirement programs and in the national social security system.

It is possible, however, that noticeably higher levels of educational attainment, retraining at different stages of life, and a shortened work week (perhaps combined with educational programs) might alter the opportunities for employment—in the aggregate and for older workers as well.

Policies on age at retirement could certainly be made more flexible. Perhaps, however, retirement will be looked upon with more favor once the economic and social supports for the retirement years are more secure. Much depends on the extent to which society legitimates leisure-time activity in comparison with work. If a “leisure ethic” gains greater social acceptance, especially within the younger portion of the work force, people may come to look forward to retirement and the leisure it brings. A man of 65 has an average of 13 years of life remaining, and a woman 16 years,12 and life expectancy may rise further with advances in medical science. With the increase in the number of older persons and the greater amount of their time available in the future, more consideration should be given to the effective use of volunteers in community agencies. This could contribute materially to both the individuals involved and the welfare of the community.

There are many other questions about the aged to consider—for example, where they will live, their position in the changing family structure, their influence on our political institutions, and so on. We can only speculate about such changes. All we know for certain is that, if the birthrate declines further, the proportion of bolder people will rise. However, as we have seen, total dependency—the proportion of aged and children together-will decline, because declines in the proportion of children will more than offset the rising proportion of aged. This change will take place gradually, permitting ample time for planning. We are not doing very well now in meeting the problems of the aged—we can certainly do better.


The Family

We recognize that in opening a discussion of the family we tread on sacred ground, for the family is our most revered institution. As the recognized unit of reproduction and child-rearing, as perhaps the most important socializing agent of oncoming generations, and for its importance in defining the social roles of both men and women in our society, it is central to most of our concerns.

The record attests to the enormous durability of the family as a valued institution, modified in response to changing conditions and to the choices available to different generations. In the United States, most people marry and they marry at an early age. Our population is unusual among industrialized nations in that the proportion ever marrying has always been high for both sexes.13

Our average age at first marriage is the lowest of any advanced country in the world. The great divide in the orientation to marriage seems to have come in the 1890’s, when age at marriage started a long downward movement that lasted, with only minor fluctuations, until the 1960’s. In 1959, the median age at first marriage was 22.5 for men and 20.2 for women; by 1970, these averages had reached 23.2 and 20.8 respectively.14 Thus, in our society, marriage has been almost universal and the age at entry into marriage has been low.

While marriage has been almost universal, divorce has become more frequent. The divorce rate in 1935 was more than twice that in 1900, and the rate in 1970 was more than twice that in 1935.15 It appears that perhaps as many as one-third of marriages now end in divorce. The increased divorce rate has often been interpreted as an indication that the institution of marriage is disintegrating. However, what appears to be happening is that unsatisfactory marriages are less often tolerated. Part of the increase in divorce is due to the fact that more couples now seek divorce when their marriages fail, instead of remaining separated. Marital dissolution does not mean rejection of the married state. The evidence for this is that, increasingly, the divorced marry again.16

Nearly universal marriage and early marriage in our society would possibly not be so prevalent had not circumstances made marriage less of an economic and social commitment and less of an irreversible step. some evidence supports such a view.17 Formerly it required that the man be able to provide adequate support for the family before marriage. Many men, therefore, had to delay marriage and some had to forego it altogether. Today, however, the proportion of women in the work force has increased markedly; and the willingness of women to work after marriage, with or without children, has encouraged many young people to decide that they could “afford” to marry. Another factor is that, while marriage once led automatically to children, it no longer needs to do so. The increased ease and respectability of divorce and remarriage has likewise reduced the obligation to remain in an unsatisfactory marriage. Finally, still other factors have encouraged earlier and more universal marriage—educational and housing benefits for veterans, federal subsidization of home ownership, college provision of housing services for married students, unemployment compensation, and last, but not least, parental willingness to continue supporting offspring after they are married.

It would appear that the result of these factors has been generally to provide a greater range of choice to men than to women. In quest of a stable relationship, the young woman often does more than perform her normal duties as wife. She often interrupts her own education and takes a dead-end job in order to support the young man while he pursues his education. Increasingly she works after marriage to improve the economic position of the family. It is the woman’s responsibilities, and not the man’s, which increase if the woman works, for she must carry family as well as job obligations. If divorce occurs, it is easier for the man to remarry, and the woman ordinarily is assigned responsibility for the continuous task of child-rearing, although she may receive financial assistance from the man. With contraception, the wife may have fewer children than before, and be fully occupied with their upbringing for a shorter time after marriage. Thereafter, however, she has the problem of coping with her time and “justifying” her relative inactivity if she does not work. Men, in general, do not face such major role conflicts until retirement.

While marriage is the common bond holding the family unit together, many families are maintained by one parent only, most often the mother. This may be the case for the woman who bears a child out of wedlock and does not put the child up for adoption, or for mothers whose marriages have been dissolved. In most such instances, however, being a single parent is a temporary state, for the person, especially if young, will usually marry or remarry.

Two developments are likely to have an impact on the family. One is the questioning of existing sex mores by young people and open violation of them by some. The other is the women’s liberation movement which aims to improve the status of women and to change role relationships within the family.

Changes in sex mores have not occurred all at once; they have been changing for a long time. In many cases, the sex mores were violated by the parental generation, but not so openly. And, overt compliance was achieved at considerable cost, especially in the case of marriages occurring as a result of premarital pregnancy. This is less necessary now with the greater availability of contraception and abortion. Also, many adults are aware that their own uncertainty and ambivalence has been a factor in the open repudiation of sexual standards by youth.

Some believe that the “sexual rebellion” may be moving in the direction taken in Sweden, where a permissive attitude towards premarital sexual activity is combined with a late age at marriage. However, both these traits are traditional in Sweden; they are not traditional in the United States. Today, many young people live together informally and are experimenting with a greater range of relationships. Whether or not these relationships are enriching depends on the personal responsibility of individuals involved and the attitudes of our society toward these individuals and their life styles. The effects on marriage and family patterns cannot yet be foreseen, and much depends on how the present confusion with respect to premarital relationships gets resolved.

A significant feature of the women’s liberation movement is that, although its demands have been made on the basis of equity for women, it has not usually been anti-marriage or anti-children. It has, however, been concerned with changing the role relationships within families and with extending services for children. Its most vocal demand, however, is for equality in the educational and occupational spheres outside the family.18

If the movement is successful, many of the role patterns will be dissolved or weakened. We can expect more conflict within marriage as to who will do what, but such conflict has already been apparent in many cases, and many believe that the quality of child-parent and of husband-wife relationships would be improved by more participation of the husband in family life. In those cases where the woman chooses or is required to work, the division of labor within the family will be based less on sex, for the husband also will be expected to assume responsibility for household chores, to share in the responsibility of caring for children, and to accommodate his occupational requirements to the family roles, much as women do.

None of these changes dictates the direction which reproduction within families will take, or whether the responsibility for childbearing and child-rearing will be enhanced, or what will happen to the quality of family life. As more satisfactory alternatives to childbearing and child-rearing become available, that in itself is likely to enhance rational and responsible decisions about reproduction and parenthood.


Population Density and Population Size

More and more Americans live in urbanized areas at densities far exceeding those in rural areas, but urban densities are not increasing. In fact, average density is actually declining, because urban territory is expanding faster than urban population. In 1960, about 96 million people lived in urbanized areas at an average density of 3,800 people per square mile. By 1970, 118 million people lived in urbanized areas, but the density of urban areas had dropped to 3,400.19

It is important to distinguish between density and agglomeration. Density, defined as the number of people per unit of area, does not specify the total numbers of people involved. Population agglomeration refers to large collections of people at an unspecified density. A small town may have a high density if the lots are small and the buildings tall. Many suburban areas have a low density but contain a large population distributed over extensive areas.

We need to understand the effects of urban density itself and the effects of having such large proportions of our people living in areas that include millions of people. What can be said about “crowding” and its effects? To what extent can social problems—high crime rates, mental illness, mass violence—be attributed to density and to the scale at which we live in metropolitan areas? What will be the social effects of near-total urbanization?

What is the meaning, in terms of daily life, of urban densities which can reach as high as 67,000 people per square mile on Manhattan Island in New York City?20 Without knowing the context in which it is experienced, the fact of high density tells us little about its importance or impact on human behavior.

High density does not necessarily imply crowding, since the type of activity a person is engaged in, its duration, and the person’s attitude all shape perception of whether a particular situation is crowded. The high density at a movie theatre does not cause a crowded feeling as long as each person has a seat. The same density at an office where people are active would probably be unbearably crowded. And certainly where a family of eight lives in three or four rooms the situation is undesirably crowded. In this case, high density coupled with poor housing conditions and poor nutrition, can only aggravate an otherwise difficult situation and seriously hinder the development of children. We cannot, however, assume that all high density situations are either crowded or necessarily bad. Some are, some are not.

Other things being equal, we know that increases in density cause increases in air pollution as the natural recycling system is overloaded. Similarly, traffic and other forms of congestion grow with density, as growing numbers of people hinder each other’s movement. But, other factors, such as population size, the layout of the city, and its type of transportation system, are also important.

In general, the research on the effects of population density on human behavior is sparse and the findings either inconclusive or negative. Despite popular belief, the evidence is lacking to show that social pathology is associated with density itself. The most judicious conclusion we can reach is that little is known and that conventional measures of density are of little use as single indicators.21

Some intriguing research has been conducted on animals which indicates that certain kinds of anti-social behavior result from excessive crowding.22 Attempts at similar research on humans have only begun, and the results are inconclusive. One study, which placed groups of individuals in rooms of different sizes, showed no effects on the performance of tasks. Men in such groups evidently became more aggressive and competitive, but women became more pleasant and less competitive. With men and women together, all effects of density disappeared.23

Urban areas and central cities do have higher rates of crime and mental illness than rural areas, but efforts to implicate population density have been inconclusive. Other factors, such as income and education appear to be more important than density itself.24

It is just possible that we may come to look at the decline in urban densities as a mixed blessing. In suburban areas, one can identify undesirable consequences of haphazard development at densities which are low relative to central cities. If continued in the decades ahead, declining densities could produce a serious reduction of available open space where we can occasionally escape from the pace of urban life. While our nation is thinly populated relative to many other advanced countries—compare our average of 58 persons per square mile nationally with 590 persons per square mile in Great Britain—it does not follow from this that our population may keep on growing with impunity, or that continuing declines in urban density are beneficial. Such a conclusion fails to reckon with differences in the habitability of the land and differences in the degree to which dense population settlement is supported by international rather than domestic commerce. Furthermore, such a conclusion glosses over the question of whether we would be better off or worse off if our open spaces were filled up with people.

Figure 7.3: Population Density by Counties: 1970
Click to Enlarge

Many of the concerns about the possible effects of density—the differences in the quality of life in small towns versus large cities, the concern about the loss of a sense of community and individual identity, increasing alienation, and similar questions—are more properly matters of the scale of social organization rather than  population density. For example, concerns about the individual’s impact on political decisions more clearly involve population size and the nature of political organization than population density.

As the individual becomes a smaller fraction of the total aggregate, his identification and commitment to the whole may diminish. But the effect of increasing size on the individual’s identity depends on many other factors such as the strength of family, neighborhood, ethnic, religious, and other organizations in the collection of communities comprising the metropolis.

Undoubtedly the description of big city life as impersonal has some validity. In the course of one day, people living in big cities have contact with many individuals, far too many to know or even recognize.

Indeed, the opportunity for such contacts is one of the advantages of urban living, since it facilitates communication and exchange. Under these circumstances, anonymity and impersonality are necessary in order to get though a day’s work.

In the space of a single lifetime, we have been transformed from a predominantly rural to a predominantly urban nation. The effects of living at high densities and in large population groups are only two demographic dimensions of this transformation. Others might come from the change in composition of urban population. In the past, our urban places have grown in part through an influx of people originating in rural areas. The differences in childhood experiences that rural people brought with them to the city probably exerted significant influence on our urban society. Today, as rural to urban migration diminishes, the influence of people of rural origin will soon come to an end. Future generations will be created from people who have been city-born and city-bred.

For better or for worse, we are becoming a nation of metropolitan dwellers. The essential point is that the consequences of this are not well known. We ought to be much more concerned than we seem to be about developing some reliable knowledge of the social and psychological consequences of urbanization, and the associated implications of urban densities and the increasing scale and complexity of social organization accompanying metropolitan agglomeration.


Racial and Ethnic Minorities

Any effort to grasp the dynamics of our population on a national scale must include a serious effort to understand what is happening among the socially and economically disadvantaged racial and ethnic minorities—blacks, Indians, Spanish-speaking groups, and others— who are struggling to break out of the backwaters of our society. We have met with social scientists, government officials, and spokesmen from these communities. At best, we have been able to develop only a broad outline of the intricate role population plays among the many pressures under which our deprived groups live. However, this much we can say: This nation cannot hope to successfully address the question of future population without also addressing the complex network of unemployment, poor housing, poor health services, and poor education, all of which combine to act upon, and react to, the pressures of population.

At the outset, we must recognize that our population problems cannot be resolved simply by inducing our “have-not” groups to limit the number of children they have. Although the fertility of minority groups is higher than that of the rest of the population, it is not they who bear the primary responsibility for population growth.

Despite their higher fertility rates, minorities— precisely because of their smaller numbers—contribute less to population growth than does the rest of the population. Among all women 35 to 44 years old in 1969, the Spanish-speaking, Indians, and blacks together contributed 30 percent of the childbearing in excess of replacement needs, while the non-Spanish-speaking white majority contributed 70 percent.25 An estimate for 1967 indicates that well over half of all childbearing in excess of replacement needs was attributable to the nonpoor, non-Spanish, white majority.26 Looking at it another way, if no babies had been born to black or Spanish-speaking parents throughout the decade of the sixties, our population would be only four percent smaller than it is today. On the other hand, if there had been no births to non-Spanish-speaking whites, our present population would be 13 percent less.27

The idea that our population growth is primarily fueled by the poor and the minorities having lots of babies is a myth. There is nonetheless a strong relationship between high fertility and the economic and social problems that afflict the 13 percent of our people who are poor, and we must address it.

In the first place, the link between birthrates and poverty is so tight that family size in general is a good indicator of how far into the mainstream of American life a group has moved. The largest families are among our rural ethnic, low income, and cultural minorities, regardless of race. They include southern Appalachian whites, southern blacks, Mexican-Americans, American Indians, and other groups.

As these groups move into the mainstream, their family size diminishes. For example, blacks with high school diplomas have about the same number of children as their white counterparts; college-educated blacks have even fewer children, on the average, than their white counterparts.28 Mexican-American fertility also declines in response to increased education.29

In the second place, the sordid history of race relations in our nation has left a widely felt legacy of fear and suspicion that will poison any population policy unless it is clear that such a policy is being developed to enhance the quality of life for all Americans, and not to restrict or curtail the gains made by minorities. As Dr. Eugene S. Callender, president of the New York Urban Coalition, told us:


Minority groups must share the generally growing concern for the quality of life available to us as the population increases. However, it must also be kept in mind that minority groups have only recently been allowed to become participants in this system, to receive its benefits and to share in shaping its future. We are even more anxious about our position within the society, since our few gains are, even now, tenuous.30


The fragility of these gains, coupled with the record of white America in relation to nonwhite and Spanish-speaking minorities, practically assures, Dr. Callender added, that any governmental efforts in the field of “population” will be viewed with distrust if not outright alarm:

Within this country, Blacks, Indians, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, and Orientals feel that such [population] control is solely to the advantage of the majority population. Minority groups at this point in history do not feel that they can afford to trust that the “nobler instincts” of the white majority will prohibit the resurgence of subtle and overt forms of racism.

This wariness is reinforced by a belief that population is of particular interest to affluent whites, and is irrelevant to the everyday survival problems faced by blacks and other minority groups. A witness at our Washington hearings told us that many blacks believe that whites who once joined them in battles against discrimination did so more out of the excitement of joining a “cause” than because of opposition to racial and social injustice. As the battles grew more difficult, whites tired of the effort and now have turned to a new cause-ecology—which blacks consider a copout from the real problems blacks face. As one witness at our Washington hearings noted, “what few white liberals which were left after the ‘backlash’ have gone traipsing off after daisies and low-phosphate detergents.” This witness added:


If this [ecology] movement also talks about fewer people, the question of “who gets to survive” is raised. So, to us, it becomes “every man for himself” now, because we have no reason to expect that we won’t get the worst of this one too.31


This feeling of powerlessness, of exclusion, has led some spokesmen to suggest that the only way to break into the “system” is by growing so large in numbers that they can no longer be ignored. As we learned from a Spanish-speaking witness at our hearings in Los Angeles, the apparent lack of majority responsiveness leads Spanish-speaking people to believe that, “. . . the only way we will get groups like yours to be responsive to our needs is through sheer weight of numbers.” It may be, he added, that “what we must do is to encourage large Mexican-American families so that we will eventually be so numerous that the system will either respond or it will be overwhelmed.”32

The Reverend Jesse Jackson reminded us in Chicago that the basic drives among all people are for food, clothing, shelter, recognition, and security. He added that:


You have to recognize that the American group that has been subjected to as much harassment as our community has is suspect of any programs that would have the effect of either reducing or leveling off our population growth. Virtually all the security we have is in the number of children we produce.33


The political success of blacks in Newark, New Jersey, Gary, Indiana, and elsewhere are cited by Jackson and others to indicate that continued growth in their communities is required to assure not only survival, but political leverage as well.

However, our public opinion survey revealed that most black people believe continued growth is a problem for this nation. Fifty-one percent said population growth is a serious problem, another 35 percent termed it a problem but not so serious, and 10 percent said it was no problem at all.34

While excess fertility among blacks and other minorities is not the main source of the problem of national population growth, nonetheless it is clear that many minority families regard excess fertility as a serious personal problem. The evidence for this is the response of minority families to family planning services when these are made available in an acceptable manner. Like other groups, minority members seek to limit their family size as a means of achieving a better quality of life for themselves and their children.

Americans, regardless of their racial or ethnic backgrounds, tend to have smaller families as their education, their jobs, and their incomes improve. However, those who have not been able to climb onto the socioeconomic escalator have also not adopted the pattern of smaller family size. Hence, unblocking our minorities and enabling them to get into the mainstream is going to have a significant effect upon future population levels.

Historically, there has been a close link between urbanization and upward social and economic mobility. But this link has broken down for blacks, the Spanish-speaking, Indians, and other “have-not” groups. For whites, the descendants of immigrants or migrants have done better than their parents. The first arrivals may have taken jobs in factories or on the docks, but they had children who finished high school and went into skilled occupations, and grandchildren who finished college and moved into the professional ranks—and out of the central cities into the suburbs.

There is no question that black people who move from farm to city are better off than those who stay on the farm. The city is where they go for jobs and educational opportunities that simply are not available in rural areas. The problem is that subsequent advances have not come to them as they have come to the majority.35

Even though blacks are narrowing the education gap, they are not faring as well economically. In fact, the better educated a black becomes, the worse grows the income gap between himself and a comparably educated white.* For example, in 1969, the median income for men with an eighth grade education was $4,300 among blacks and $5,500 among whites—a difference of $1,200. For those with high school diplomas, black men had a median income of S6,100, whites $8,600—a difference of $2,500. Among college graduates, black men earned median incomes of $8,600, which was $3,800 below the $12,400 earned by whites. The black college graduate in 1969 was earning no more than a white with a high school diploma. For men of Spanish origin, the 1970 median income was $6,000 compared with $8,200 for all whites and $5,000 for blacks.36

Those minority people who have “made it” into the system have adopted the small-family pattern. The problem is that so few of them have made it. The task is to make the system work for them as it has for the majority.

If the facts of life for blacks and many other minorities are grim—the facts of death are no better. Blacks live, on the average, seven years less than whites, though this is not as bad as the turn of the century when the gap in life expectancy was 15 years.37 Current differences are due primarily to premature death among black adults between the ages of 20 to 60, and secondarily to higher mortality among black children .38 The source of this higher black mortality is found in the social and economic facts we have already noted.

A Houston case study showed that the number of deaths in 1960 among Mexican-Americans was 12 percent higher for males, and 67 percent higher for females than would have been the case if they had been subject to the death rates experienced by non-Spanish whites. The corresponding figures for excess mortality in Houston’s black population were 43 percent for males and 87 percent for females.39 National figures show that total mortality among Indians exceeds white mortality by 50 percent.40

*A separate statement by Commissioner D. Gale Johnson appears on page 158.


The existence of large differences in mortality by socioeconomic level within minority populations suggests that the excess mortality of these groups can be largely reduced with improvements in levels of living.41

In Little Rock, Arkansas, a black man confronted us with a more basic issue: Do we, as a society, want to improve conditions for the poor and the excluded? He questioned whether we do:


I suggest to you that many of us who are advantaged have a vested interest in keeping the disadvantaged exactly where they are. Our economic and political strategies are clearly designed to keep a segment of our population poor and powerless. I suggest that many of our social welfare programs have failed and are failing to help the poor and oppressed among us because they were never intended to help them.42


The decade 1960 to 1970 saw a doubling of the number of young black men and women aged 15 to 24 in the metropolitan areas of every part of the nation except the south.43 This increase, twice that for comparable white youth, was the result of higher black fertility to begin with, participation in the post-World War II baby boom, and continued migration away from southern rural poverty. The result has been more and more young black people ill-equipped to cope with the demands of urban life, more likely to wind up unemployed or in dead-end, low-paying jobs, and caught in the vicious wheel of poverty, welfare, degradation, and crime.

The facts we have cited describe a crisis for our society. They add up to a demographic recipe for more turmoil in our cities, more bitterness among our “have-nots,” and greater divisiveness among all of our peoples. What we have said here means that unless we address our major domestic social problems in the short run—beginning with racism and poverty—we will not be able to resolve fully the question of population growth. And, unless we can resolve the question of population growth, in the long run it not only will further aggravate our current problems, but may eventually dwarf them.


Report TOC Chapter 8 Population and Public Policy Top of Page Center for Research on Population and Security