Minority children are now the majority among children in 11 Oklahoma counties, including Oklahoma County, the state's largest county.
That's a big change from a decade ago, when just four Oklahoma counties had “majority-minority” child populations.
Hispanic children and children of two or more races accounted for most of the state's under-18 population growth in the last decade, according to an analysis of census data by The Oklahoman.
Also, the racial gap has widened between children and adults, another indication of a demographic shift that could change the face of Oklahoma. In almost half of the state's counties, the gap between the share of white adults and white children exceeds the statewide average of 17 percentage points.
William Frey, a demographer at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, calls the differences between child and adult populations a “racial generation gap.” Oklahoma ranked sixth in the United States for the largest racial generation gap. Arizona was first.
“Change in the nation's child population over the 2000s show the sharp distinction between the country's aging white population and its growing, youthful new minority populations,” Frey said in a recent report. “These gaps could signal emerging cultural and political divisions across generations.”
Overall, 44 percent of Oklahoma's children were minorities in 2010. That compared to 27 percent of adults who identified themselves as minorities. In 2000, minority children made up 35 percent of the child population. Almost 23 percent of adults were minorities.
For the analysis, minorities were anyone not identifying themselves or people in their household on census forms as white. Hispanics can be of any race, according to U.S. Census Bureau definitions.
Some of the demographic changes could be attributed to how people report race and ethnicity, said Patricia Bell, a sociology professor at Oklahoma State University.
“Some of that is not necessarily population growth or change, it's re-identification where people identify themselves differently,” Bell said. “Sometimes when you have a couple who are of different races, they leave the race of a child blank on the form and the Census Bureau makes the assignment.”
Other changes could come from migration or differences in birthrates in rural or poverty-stricken areas, Bell said. Some white and black college graduates with children have left the state for job opportunities in the last decade. Also, the Hispanic growth in Oklahoma has been rapid, but the share of Hispanics in the state remains lower than neighbors such as Kansas and Texas, she said.
“It can be a combination of migratory patterns for women and children as well as birthrate,” Bell said. “People who have a multiracial background are more likely than before to identify themselves in some category that they didn't use before.”
Changing child demographics
In the last decade, the number of children in Oklahoma increased by 4 percent to almost 930,000. By contrast, the adult population grew 10 percent to 2.82 million.
Oklahoma was among 27 states that had increases in their child populations.
Among children in Oklahoma, the growth was uneven across the state. The child population grew in 36 counties and fell in 41 counties.
The child populations in Canadian, McClain, Marshall, Logan and Wagoner counties all grew by more than 20 percent. It fell by more than 20 percent in Tillman, Grant and Cimarron counties.
Since 2000, the number of Hispanic children (of any race) grew by more than 62,000, or 89 percent.
At the same time, the number of children of two or more races grew by almost 27,000, or 49 percent, and the number of Asian children increased by 4,400, or 41 percent.
The number of American Indian children grew by more than 6,300, or 7 percent.
To contrast that, the state's population of white children fell by nearly 57,000, or 10 percent, during the last decade. The number of black children fell by more than 6,700, or 8 percent.
In his report, Frey said similar shifts are happening across the country.
“Slower growth among whites owes in part to their lower fertility rate — about 1.9 births per white woman, compared with 3.0 births per Hispanic woman — as well as a relatively low contribution to population growth from immigration,” he wrote.
Child advocates said the demographic shifts among children have policy implications in Oklahoma.
“If we want a progressive, educated and healthy workforce, we have to look at the demographics within our state and assure that we have the needs to move forward to where we want Oklahoma to be,” said Linda Terrell, executive director of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy.
Terrell said one of the biggest needs is educational support for bilingual programs. She cited a recent case of a woman in Cleveland County whose daughter had been treated for chronic earaches. Once a translator became involved, it turned out the woman wasn't following medicine instructions.
“Once we got that language barrier taken care of, the baby was better,” Terrell said. “That's just one kind of extra supports we need to make sure our children are cared for properly.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Note: White is non-Hispanic whites. Hispanics can be of any race and are counted under the minority categories.