Richard Alba: The Great Demographic Illusion - How Assimilation Matters in 21st Century America


Monday, February 1, 2021, 12:15pm to 1:15pm



Richard Alba, Distinguished Professor of Sociology, The Graduate Center, CUNY

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The Great Demographic Illusion, by Richard Alba

A widely accepted demographic narrative for the U.S. holds that, by the middle of this century, whites will become a minority of the population, outnumbered by the aggregate of people of color, the current minorities of the society.  Presumably, such a demographic shift would have manifold societal ramifications.  In this talk, I show that this narrative is highly problematic—first, because of unacknowledged problems in the conventional demographic coding of ethnicity and race and, second, because the demographic data and the narrative obscure processes of assimilation that are likely to reconfigure ethno-racial contours. 

The best window on both of these points is provided by the rapidly growing numbers of young Americans from mixed family backgrounds that create kinship connections both to whites and members of a minority group:  Today, at least 10 percent of U.S.-born young children are growing up in mixed minority-white families. The great majority of youth from such backgrounds are coded as “not white” in census data.  A synthesis of the evidence about them, however, indicates that, for the most part, they are integrating into and diversifying mainstream milieus, which are mainly white at present.  The hugely important exception involves individuals of black and white parentage, who confront high racist barriers to mainstream inclusion.

About the speaker

Richard Alba, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, is a sociologist and demographer. His research interests include race, ethnicity, and migration and urban sociology.

The seeds of Richard Alba’s interest in ethnicity were sown during his childhood in the Bronx of the 1940s and 1950s and nurtured intellectually at Columbia University, where he received his undergraduate and graduate education, completing his PhD in 1974.

After teaching at the State University of New York for almost three decades, he returned to the City University of New York, where he began his teaching career, assuming the position of Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center in 2008. 

He has been elected Vice President of the American Sociological Association and President of the Sociological Research Association.  He has held a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and has been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. He ia member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

The Great Demographic Illusion, by Richard AlbaHis latest book, The Great Demographic Illusion (Princeton University Press, September 2020), explores why the number of young Americans from mixed families is surging and what this means for the country’s future. 

His many other books include Strangers No More, co-authored with Nancy Foner (Princeton University Press, 2015), Blurring the Color Line (Harvard University Press, 2012) and Remaking the American Mainstream, co-authored with Victor Nee (Harvard University Press, 2005).

Learn more
Richard Alba faculty page


See also: Spring 2021