Ethnic Differences in Demographic Behavior in the United States: What Can We Learn from Vital Statistics about Inequality?
This paper looks at the fertility and mortality experience of racial and ethnic groups in the United States from the early 20th century to the present. The first part consist of a description and critique of the racial and ethnic categories used in the federal census and in the published vital statistics. The second part looks at these two dimensions of demographic behavior. There has been both absolute and relative convergence of fertility across groups. It has been of relatively recent origin and has been due, in large part, to stable birth rates for the majority white population combined with declining birth rates for blacks and the Asian-origin, Hispanic-origin, and American Indian populations. This has not been true for mortality. The black population has experienced absolute convergence but relative deterioration in mortality (neonatal and infant mortality, maternal mortality, expectation of life at birth, and age-adjusted death rates), in contrast to the American Indian and Asian-origin populations. The Asian-origin population actually now has age-adjusted death rates significantly lower than those for the white population. The disadvantaged condition of the black population and the deteriorating social safety net are the likely origins of this outcome. This is a clear indication of relative inequality, as the black population is not sharing as much in the mortality improvements in recent decades.
This essay was prepared for the annual meetings of the Social Science History Association, Chicago, IL, November, 2016 Michael R. Haines is the Banfi Vintners Professor of Economics at Colgate University and Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.