Feature

The U.S. population is still largely white and non-Hispanic. But with minority populations overall growing 12 times faster than the white population, the ethnic, linguistic and racial composition of America stands to change dramatically in the next decade.

"America is changing and we're reorganizing," said APA's immediate Past-president Norine G. Johnson, PhD, who opened a Board of Professional Affairs (BPA)-sponsored meeting on the topic on Oct. 25 in Washington, D.C. About 25 representatives from most APA boards and committees attended the daylong "Institute on Psychology and America's Changing Demographics."

Demographers John Long, PhD, from the U.S. Bureau of Census, and Stephen Tordella, of Decision Demo-graphics, shared statistics with the group.

"How fast the population grew in the last decade was a big surprise," said Long. Indeed, growth in the 1990s was 13.2 percent higher than the previous two decades. The Hispanic population alone experienced a 60 percent increase in size--making that population nearly equal to the African-American population. The foreign-born population has now reached 30.5 million--growing from 19.8 million in 1990. And 18 percent of American households speak a language other than English.

While increased diversity stands to enrich America, economic inequality is a growing problem. "There's a developing divide," said Tordella. Forty percent of people are still making the same money they were in 1970. One in six U.S. kids--most of them black or Hispanic--lives below the poverty line. And 10.2 percent of senior citizens live in poverty.

After learning more about the changing demographics, attendees broke into roundtable discussions to list questions and strategies that psychology could consider to meet the needs created by America's evolving demographics. They included:

  • Psychologists must broaden their research methodologies to include multiple perspectives and collaborate with other disciplines.

  • Diversity awareness should continue to be integrated into "ourselves and all APA committees and boards, not just special-interest groups."

  • Textbooks must better reflect the realities of diversity and changing demographics.

  • Psychology needs to be more cognizant of and deal with issues of poverty.

  • Programs that increase services for diverse populations need to be developed, such as allowing postdoctoral psychologists to provide frontline services in exchange for loan payment.

  • How can we fully appreciate the diversity of groups? According to one participant, "Cultures force us to re-examine our work and our models of health-care delivery."

  • Will the aging disparity in the country pit younger people versus older people, especially over funding for social security, for example?

  • Psychology needs to adhere to a public health model and psychology programs should address public and community health patterns more extensively.

In the words of Surgeon General David Satcher, MD, PhD, during last year's convention, "Culture counts." In the next 25 years, there will be a 50 percent growth in minority groups. Psychologists must be keenly aware of the demographic trends in America. The BPA institute was a step toward preparing psychology for a changing world.

Further Reading

More demographic information can be found at www.census.gov and at www.Ameristat.org.