This was the essential question of speaker Paul Taylor, current senior fellow at Pew Research Center, who visited LSU on Tuesday afternoon. His presentation, “The Next America,” was one part of a symposium titled “Moment or Movement: A National Dialogue on Identity, Empowerment and Justice for All.” His lecture, presented in the Woods Auditorium in LSU’s Energy, Coast, & Environment building, focused on demographic trends and changes in the United States.
The three major demographic categories Taylor explored in his presentation were race, gender, and age, as well as their intersectionality. He began with race, saying that the country is currently having “a difficult and raw conversation” about race relations; he reminded the audience the relevancy of this fact by referring to the recent shootings of and by police in Baton Rouge.
He did not solely focus on American-born citizens, however. Many of the statistics he included involved immigration. “We have always been a nation of immigrants, and we are once again becoming a nation of immigrants.”
On the subject of race, Taylor also told his listeners that “Mixed race individuals are the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S.” While this may seem obvious, he uses the fact to support his prediction that “the millennials are the transitional generation to a majority non-white United States population.”
He concluded that “…we are in fact on a better trajectory,” and noted that every generation becomes more tolerant towards racial diversity. He classified this upward trend in racial relations not as a moment, but as a movement.
Next, he moved on to the demographic of age. One of the most significant trends in terms of age demographics over the 20th century was that “People [began] living longer and having fewer children.” Much of Taylor’s presentation included charts and graphs to help the audience better visualize specific changes over time. These visuals were particularly helpful during his segment on age.
There was one series of graphs in particular that stood out: the age pyramid. In an age pyramid chart, the different age ranges are listed in ascending order. Throughout human history, the youngest age group–the one at the bottom of the pyramid–has always also been the largest; it pretty consistently followed that the older the age group, the fewer people in it.
“This is beginning to change, however,” Taylor explained, “and the pyramid is starting to turn into a rectangle.” This fact reflects the advancement of medical science as a means through which people are able to live longer and healthier lives.
Taylor also briefly discussed differences in age groups in terms of their financial and political statuses. He talked about the clear generational difference in politics. The pattern of a more liberal youth and a more conservative older population seems to continue as usual.
As far as economics, however, he showed that today’s younger adults are in worse financial shape than the same age group of the last generation, including adjustments for inflation. As a result, many young adults and their families are more weary about the price of education. However, taking into consideration the difficulty of finding a job today with only a high school degree, Taylor said, ““The only thing more expensive than going to college is not going to college.” He also noted that a smaller proportion of the young adult age group is getting married.
Taylor then transitioned into discussing differences between opinions on marriage and life satisfaction between men and women. Women consider a good marriage, good children, and better world as higher priorities than men do. Men, however, are overall more optimistic about life satisfaction.
These social trends and changes Taylor discussed are powerful indicators of societal change. Ultimately, he was optimistic about the shift, however slow it may be, towards justice, equality, and acceptance in American society.