May 9th, 2012 | Posted in Race Ethnicity
by Paola Scommegna, senior writer/editor
Continuing declines in residential segregation and in homogenous social networks—which can reduce prejudice and improve social cohesion—are not guaranteed as the United States moves toward a “majority-minority” population (projected for 2042), reshaped from the “bottom up” by high Hispanic fertility, said Daniel T. Lichter, a Cornell University sociologist and president of the Population Association of America (PAA).
In his address, “Integration or Fragmentation: Racial Diversity and the American Future,” at the 2012 PAA conference held from May 2-5 in San Francisco, he explored the challenges of growing diversity and the dynamics that create a “built-in momentum for increasing poverty.”
In Lichter’s view, the generational divide—created by a majority non-Hispanic white elderly population and a growing minority child population—raises a key question: “Will older non-Hispanic white people care enough about other people’s children to invest in them?” If not, past progress in reducing poverty and achieving racial equality is threatened.
Other threats to progress include the academic achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and their non-Hispanic white peers; the re-segregation of public schools; high rates of incarceration for blacks, which undermines the social fabric; undocumented immigration, which creates a barrier to mobility and integration of children; income inequality and slowed intergenerational social mobility; and neighborhoods with heavily concentrated poverty.
While intermarriage contributes to bridging racial and ethnic divisions and mixed-race children help blur racial distinctions, Lichter reported that interracial marriage appears to be slowing and online dating may be reinforcing same-race coupling.
Growing diversity has implications for the field of demography, according to Lichter. Making certain an ethnically and racially diverse group of researchers are trained is crucial, as their diverse perspectives can redefine research and reshape intellectual discourse, he said. A detailed article based on this address will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal Demography.