During the December 6 debate for the Republican presidential nomination, Vivek Ramaswamy used his time on stage, in part, to promote the racially charged “great replacement theory.” The reality is that our society has made a conscious decision—across every racial demographic—to have fewer children.
Subscribers to this conspiracy theory believe that white people are being replaced by immigrants in the sense that immigration policies are designed to reduce the influence of white people. Some iterations of this conspiracy theory are antisemitic. The conspiracy theory has been cited by those who have committed crimes, including mass shootings.
There’s no denying that demographic changes are happening in the United States. Our society is getting older and more racially diverse. Our views on religion are changing because of the growth of different religions, religious nones, and nonbelievers. It’s a jolt to the status quo that many didn’t realize was happening because, put simply, they weren’t watching the world around them.
Yes, nonwhite populations are growing, but that’s not happening because white people are being replaced; it’s because white people aren’t having children at the same rates as individuals of other races. Other races, too, have seen declines in birth rates. At the same time, population growth in the United States has slowed. Also, whites, who were 75.1 percent of the population in 2000, have gotten older and are roughly 59 percent of the population as of 2020. That’s a big change in 20 years.
The white population actually declined by 1.2 million between 2010 and 2022 while the population of all other races grew by more than 24 million. This isn’t a result of “replacement” as the conspiracy theory suggests. The simple explanation is the decline in birth rates among whites.
Recently, we noted that current population projections from the Congressional Budget Office show that deaths in the United States will outpace births in 2042. The only population growth will come from net immigration. This is a direct result of the fact that we’re not replacing ourselves.
The replacement rate—just for the population to replace itself—is 2.1 children per woman. A quick search shows that the disparity in replacement rates (or fertility rates)—by which I mean that the rates for whites were lower than other races—between races was noted as far back as 2012.
Immigration—by which I mean legal immigration—has always been a necessity for the United States. It’s even more of a necessity now because of the decline in birth rates. Under the baseline estimate from the Census Bureau, the population of the United States would begin to decline in 2081. Under reduced immigration levels, the decline would begin in 2044. If immigration were ended completely, the population of the United States would begin to decline in 2025. Under high immigration levels, the population would grow, but growth would eventually slow, although it won’t decline.
What explains the decline in fertility and birth rates? There are several reasons. Women are waiting until later to have children. They’ve gone to college and opted for careers. Economic conditions have also had an impact. Some national conservatives have complained about women in the workforce. It seems they generally believe that women should remain at home and raise a family.
Declining birth rates will significantly impact the federal budget, international competitiveness, and the broader economy. It’s a serious issue, and virtually every developed nation is experiencing this problem. It has nothing to do with an exceedingly dumb and racist conspiracy theory and everything to do with the fact that we, as a society, have decided to have fewer kids.