Every 10 years since 1790, the federal government of the United States conducts the U.S. census of the country's population, which includes a head count of the people living in the country, in addition to a distribution breakdown of where those people live. This is important because the U.S. Constitution created the census in order to figure out how many seats in the House of Representatives — as well as how much federal funding — each state will get.
The census asks questions about every member of each household in America, including their sex, age, race and relationship to each other. Here are eight takeaways from the 2020 U.S. census:
1. The U.S. Population Grew Slowly Between 2010 and 2020
The U.S. population rose from 308.7 million to 331.4 million over the course of the past decade — that's an increase of 22.7 million. With a percentage increase in total population of only 7.4 percent, the 2010s rivaled the Great Depression for slow growth. (In contrast, the period between 1950 and 1960 saw an 18.5 percent increase in the U.S. population.)
2. Fewer Children Were Born in the Past Decade
The percentage of the U.S. population under the age of 18 declined by almost 1.5 percent in the past decade. As birth rates decline, children make up about 22 percent of the population, although that varies by race and region: The majority of the under-18 set are not white, and the population in the Northeast is scant in children (20 percent) while the Southeast has a slightly more robust child population (22.5 percent).
3. American Families Have Become More Diverse
One surprising finding from the 2020 census was the startling jump in the number of Americans describing themselves as multiracial. Among the non-Hispanic population alone there was a 127 percent jump in the multiracial population of the U.S. And among the Hispanic population, it was even higher — the number of Hispanic Americans who identify as multiracial grew from 3 million to 20.3 million, a whopping 576 percent increase. Even though multiracial Americans make up only around 4 percent of the population, this spike is significant. It's possible this has to do with an increase in multiracial families, Americans reporting their race differently or something about the design of the 2020 census that caused people to answer questions differently than before — possibly all three.
4. The White Population Has Declined
For the first time on record, the white population of the U.S. — the largest racial group in the country — fell. Although the U.S. has become increasingly diverse over the past few decades, this is the first time the white population has actually shrunk. Although whites remain the largest race group in the U.S., the 2020 census data show the white population falling from 64 percent of the population in 2010 to 58 percent in 2020. (The share of the population occupied by whites in 2000 was 69 percent.)
5. White Americans Are the Oldest Racial Group
According to demographers, part of the reason for the declining numbers of white Americans has to do with their age. The median age of whites in 2019 was 44, compared with 30 for Hispanics and 38 for the American population overall. This has to do with declining birth rates, but also the baby boomer generation squeaking into their 60s and 70s.
6. America Has Become More Urban
The growth in the U.S. happened almost exclusively in urban areas over the past decade. People flocked from rural to metropolitan counties; even in states that are growing rapidly like Georgia and North Carolina, the rural areas shrank in population. Interestingly, a retirement community in Florida called The Villages was the fastest-growing metro area in the country, seeing 39 percent growth between 2010 and 2020.
7. Hispanic and Asian Populations Have Skyrocketed
With growth in the overall population of the U.S. slowing, the gains that were made happened largely in the Hispanic population, which grew from 16 to 19 percent of the total U.S. population. Latinos accounted for about half (52 percent) of all U.S. population growth over this period.
The Asian population grew as well — up by more than a third since 2010. In 2020 America, one in four Americans is either Hispanic or Asian.
8. Populations of the South and West Have Grown
Phoenix, Arizona, overtook Philadelphia as the fifth largest city in America, its population growing 11 percent in the past decade. Similarly, Dallas and Houston, Texas, are two of the fastest growing cities in the country. Georgia and North Carolina saw population surges as well, while the populations of West Virginia, Mississippi, Illinois and Puerto Rico declined.