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Beginning of the 21st Century, An Increasingly Diverse Population

Great Plains states, wedlock births, Asian American population, Hispanic Americans, traditional families

The United States had a larger, more diverse population than ever as the 21st century began. According to the 2000 census, the population grew to more than 281 million people during the 1990s, an increase of 32.7 million since the 1990 census. Hispanic Americans fueled much of the population increase. The fastest-growing minority group in the United States, the Hispanic population grew from 22.4 million to 35.3 million, a 58-percent increase, between 1990 and 2000. The Asian American population grew by 48 percent in the 1990s. The census also showed that, for the first time since the early 1930s, one out of every ten Americans was foreign-born. The country was getting older as well. The median age in the United States rose to 35.3 years, higher than ever. The fastest-growing age group was a segment of the so-called “baby-boom” generation—people between 45 and 54.

Most of the population growth took place in the West and South in cities such as Denver, Colorado, and Atlanta, Georgia. Big cities in the North and East such as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Detroit, Michigan, lost population in the 1990s. The nation’s midsection also emptied out. Sixty percent of the counties in the Great Plains states (Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, and North and South Dakota) lost people. Nearly 2,300,000 sq km (900,000 sq mi) in this region met the definition of frontier: land populated by six or less people per square mile (2.3 people per square kilometer).

The American family also underwent dramatic changes. Census data revealed that for the first time, married couples with children represented less than a quarter of all U.S. households (23.5 percent, down from 38.8 percent in 1970). The number of single mothers, single fathers, and unmarried couples grew sharply. However, the decline in the number of so-called nuclear families—two adults and their children—did not necessarily signal a breakdown in traditional families. Many married couples were simply waiting longer to have children. And more couples were living longer after their children left home. Two troubling trends, divorce and out-of-wedlock births, slowed their growth in the 1990s.

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