Oklahoma Census: Children leading the demographic change

White children now make up fewer than half of the child population in 11 Oklahoma counties as Hispanic and multiracial children made gains in the last decade.
BY PAUL MONIES pmonies@opubco.com Published: May 1, 2011
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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.”

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BY THE NUMBERS

2000

2010

Change

Percent change

Total population

3,450,654

3,751,351

300,697

8.71%

Adults

2,558,294

2,821,685

263,391

10.30%

Children

892,360

929,666

37,306

4.18%

White children

576,731

519,877

-56.854

-9.86%

Minority children

315,629

409,789

94,160

29.83%

White adults

1,979,637

2,055,504

75,867

3.83%

Minority adults

578,657

766,181

187,524

32.41%

Note: White is non-Hispanic whites. Hispanics can be of any race and are counted under the minority categories.

Source: The Oklahoman analysis of U.S. Census Data

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