For the first time in US history, whites of European ancestry account for less than half of newborn children, marking a demographic tipping point that is already changing the nation's politics, economy and workforce.
Among the roughly four million children born in the US between July 2010 and July 2011, 50.4 percent belonged to a racial or ethnic group that in previous generations would have classified them as minorities, up from 48.6 percent in the same period two years earlier, the Census Bureau said Thursday.
That was the first 12-month stretch in which non-Hispanic white children accounted for less than half the country's births.
William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, says African-Americans are the largest minority among adults over 50. But for anyone younger -- including the newborns forming America's first "majority minority" generation -- Hispanics are the second-largest population group after whites of European descent.
"It's a major turning point for American society," he said. "We're moving from a largely white and black population to one which is much more diverse and is a big contrast from what most baby boomers grew up with."
Thursday's census data also shows that immigration is not the main driving force behind America's growing diversity. In fact, the shift has as much to do with the aging white population as the growth in other groups.
The total number of births declined between July 2010 and July 2011, compared with the same period two years earlier. But among all ethnic groups, non-Hispanic whites saw births decline just over 10 percent, more than any other group.
Overall, the white population is barely above the point where births exceed deaths.
Last year 1,025 non-Hispanic white children were born for every 1,000 who died, compared with a ratio of 3,940 births to 1,000 deaths for all other ethnic groups, according to Kenneth Johnson, senior demographer at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute.
Data for 2010 shows Hispanic women give birth to 2.4 babies on average, compared with 1.8 babies for non-Hispanic whites, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
But the rapid growth of the Hispanic population is not just due to higher birthrates: minority women also are younger on average, so more of them are in childbearing years.