Americans are under the spell of a distorted and polarizing story about their country’s future—the majority-minority narrative—which contends that inevitable demographic changes will create a society with a majority made up of minorities for the first time in the United States’s history. The Great Demographic Illusion reveals that this narrative obscures a more transformative development: the rising numbers of young Americans from ethno-racially mixed families, consisting of one white and one nonwhite parent. Examining the unprecedented significance of mixed parentage in the twenty-first-century United States, Richard Alba looks at how young Americans with this background will play pivotal roles in the country’s demographic future.
Assembling a vast body of evidence, Alba explores where individuals of mixed parentage fit in American society. Most participate in and reshape the mainstream, as seen in their high levels of integration into social milieus that were previously white dominated. Yet, racism is evident in the very different experiences of individuals with black-white heritage. Alba’s portrait squares in key ways with the history of immigrant-group assimilation, and indicates that, once again, mainstream American society is expanding and becoming more inclusive.
Nevertheless, there are also major limitations to mainstream expansion today, especially in its more modest magnitude and selective nature, which hinder the participation of black Americans and some other people of color. Alba calls for social policies to further open up the mainstream by correcting the restrictions imposed by intensifying economic inequality, shape-shifting racism, and the impaired legal status of many immigrant families.
Countering rigid demographic beliefs and predictions, The Great Demographic Illusion offers a new way of understanding American society and its coming transformation.
Awards and Recognition
- Winner of the Otis Dudley Duncan Award, Section on Population of the American Sociological Association
"A heartening, wise, and profoundly important counternarrative to hysteria."—Kirkus Reviews
"Alba writes with an admirable absence of jargon. His data-driven but fully accessible work advances an original and important idea that, if correct, will have major societal consequences."—Foreign Affairs
"Required reading for everyone who comments or writes on American elections."—Morris Fiorina, Real Clear Politics
"A book that American politicians should read. . . . Excellent policy proposals."—Suzanne Model, Ethnic and Racial Studies
"An extremely important book. . . . Alba uses a wealth of data and a rigorous historical lens to systematically dismantle this “great demographic illusion,” which is fueling populist backlash and political division."—Eric Kaufmann, American Journal of Sociology
"Clearly rooted in sociology and does include data and tables, this is a productive and enlightening read even for those who teach and do research in literary and cultural studies."—Julia Sattler, Amerikastudien/American Studies
"Through his masterful marshaling of demographic data, sociological theory, and historical fact, Alba demolishes the idea of a coming white minority in the United States. The Great Demographic Illusion offers a strong caution against using the racial and ethnic categories of today to interpret the future, and provides a welcome dose of demographic reality to those who fear and celebrate the compositional changes under way in American society."—Douglas S. Massey, coauthor of Climbing Mount Laurel
"This provocative and optimistic book argues that the United States is not in the midst of a great transformation to a majority-minority society. Instead we are experiencing a redrawing of ethnic and racial boundaries as intermarriage creates a new inclusive, societal majority. An urgent reply to the manipulation of demography by politicians trying to inspire fear, The Great Demographic Illusion is a beautifully crafted reaffirmation of the best of American history and values."—Mary C. Waters, coauthor of Inheriting the City
"The Great Demographic Illusion should be essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how America is changing—and why the dominant narrative of an inevitable majority-minority America is mistaken."—Paul Starr, Pulitzer Prize–winning sociologist and author of Entrenchment
"In 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that white Americans will become a minority by 2044. For white nationalists, this projection poses a threat to racial and cultural dominance. For progressive Democrats, it points to inevitable political triumph. Alba shows that neither frame is correct—demographic diversity is not destiny. The Great Demographic Illusion should be required reading for all who wish to understand the future of ethno-racial relations in an ever-changing America."—Jennifer Lee, author of The Asian American Achievement Paradox
"The Great Demographic Illusion documents, beyond argument, that the majority-minority narrative is wrong—it ignores assimilation. The era of the melting pot expanded the mainstream to include Polish Jews and Irish Catholics, and today’s era of racial mixture further expands it. Alba shows how through assimilation America continues to thrive."—Kenneth Prewitt, author of What Is “Your” Race?
"Drilling well below the surface of mixed reactions to the majority-minority narrative, The Great Demographic Illusion reveals what the demographic destiny of the United States looks like, and what it means for the nation. Drawing on a rich theoretical tool kit and illuminating data, this book is a must-read for anyone who hopes to understand where the country is now and where it is headed in the future."—Tomás R. Jiménez, author of The Other Side of Assimilation
"The Great Demographic Illusion tackles a crucial, central theme underlying racial debates in America, namely the presumption of a durable binary division between white and nonwhite in American culture and politics. Building his arguments around the rapidly growing group of people who are of mixed parentage, Alba addresses the majority-minority question in a serious way. It is time for an updated thinking about race, and in this regard, this is a landmark book."—Dowell Myers, University of Southern California
"Examining issues of broad concern, The Great Demographic Illusion challenges the idea of an inevitable majority-minority society, shows the significance of the growth in the number of people of mixed origins, and describes the likely emergence of a new multiracial mainstream. An innovative, insightful account of the assimilation process today, this is an outstanding book with much to offer."—John Iceland, Pennsylvania State University