The “Second Great Wave” of Immigration: Growth of the Foreign-Born Population Since 1970

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Written By: Elizabeth M. Grieco

Many Americans can trace their ancestral roots to the “great wave” of immigration that occurred during the late 1800s and early 1900s. This is not surprising, as the foreign-born population grew rapidly during this period, doubling in size from 6.7 million in 1880 to 14.2 million in 1930. Between 1880 and 1930, the foreign-born population represented between 12 and 15 percent of the total population.

As immigration to the United States slowed after 1930 and the resident foreign-born population either died off or emigrated, the size of that population continued to decline, falling to 9.6 million in 1970, the lowest level in the 20th century. Less than 5 percent of the total population in 1970 – or less than one in 20 people – were foreign-born.

However, over the last four decades, the United States has experienced what many are calling the “second great wave” of immigration. Since 1970, the foreign-born population has continuously increased in size and as a percentage of the total U.S. population. The foreign-born population quadrupled after 1970, reaching 40.0 million by 2010, and about 13 percent of the total population – or one in eight – were foreign-born.

Once again, the country is approaching a percentage of foreign-born not seen since the late 1800s and early 1900s. Will this proportion continue to increase, perhaps exceeding the high of nearly 15 percent achieved in both 1890 and 1910?

At the moment, it is too early to tell. There is some evidence to suggest that the growth of the foreign-born population may be slowing, but even that is tenuous at this point. For example, according to the American Community Survey, the size of the foreign-born population grew by only 450,000 between 2011 and 2012, reaching 40.8 million. Also, between 2008 and 2012, the number of new arrivals – as measured by the number of foreign-born who reported they were living abroad the year before being surveyed – has remained at about 1 million each year.

Data collected in the next few years by the American Community Survey will help determine if the second great wave will continue to swell or if it has already crested.

For more information on the foreign-born population, please see the new report released today Noncitizens Under Age 35: 2010-2012.

Foreign Born population and percentage of total population

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Welcome to the Future of

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Byline: Lisa Wolfisch

If you have ever visited, you know that sorting through the vast array of information about America’s people, places and economy can be daunting.

Based on customer research and feedback we collected and analyzed over time, we heard loud and clear that both search and navigation of our site could be much better. Visitors to should not have to work so hard to find the information and statistics they are looking for to complete their research, personal projects or business needs.

Over the past two years, we have been making some modest enhancements to to make our content more accessible, understandable, useful and interesting to the broadest possible audience. You may be familiar with some of these enhancements, such as an improved Population Clock, new web tools like Easy Stats, Census Explorer and data visualizations, or the addition of our API. Today, we are taking these enhancements to the next level with the launch of

In a few weeks, we will officially launch the new site but you can take a sneak peak at it now and begin to familiarize yourself with its format. We hope the new will help you more easily find the information you need to make data driven decisions but do not worry, all of the information you rely upon is still available.

So what is different about the new The new site navigation brings together demographic and economic content around topics such as health, income and poverty, education and population. If you are interested in our health statistics, you can now access the “Health” web page to learn about Census Bureau statistics on disability, fertility, health insurance, healthcare industries, small area health insurance estimates, HIV/AIDS, social assistance and industries. In addition, theme pages will highlight a variety of content from working papers, publications, interactive tools and more. To help you find what you need, many of the pages also now include links to related content and popular services at the bottom.

As you check out the beta site, please be aware that links may take you back to the current site. We have a lot of content and the new will grow over time to include more updated pages.

We hope these changes will make it easier to find the information you need. In the coming months, you will also see changes to the results you get when you search for information on our site.

In line with the Digital Government Strategy, the new website is just one part of our digital transformation. Together with other innovations, such as our mobile apps, America’s Economy and dwellr, we are using 21st century technology to meet our centuries-old mission of making the statistics that define our growing, changing nation more accessible than ever before.

We are excited about the changes we are making to but they are all meaningless if they do not meet your needs.  We continue to encourage your feedback at and hope to construct a new site worthy of your daily interest and explorations.

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Marrying Older, But Sooner?

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Written By: Jonathan Vespa

The age when Americans marry for the first time has risen to its highest point since the 1950s. Although true, there is more to the story. With life expectancy increasing, Americans today are actually marrying sooner in their lifetime, despite marrying at older ages.

Taking the long view

Although it is common to use the 1950s as a comparison period, doing so exaggerates how much the age at marriage has really risen (Figure 1). Looking at trends since 1890 reveals a U-shaped curve in which the 1950s and 1960s stand out as the exception for marriage, not the norm (estimates for these two decades are not significantly different from one another).

By the end of the 19th century, men married for the first time at 26 years old, three years later than they did in the decade following the Second World War. By 1900 their age at marriage began falling, and it took a full century before returning to its 1890 level. For women, it took 90 years (Figure 1). The idea then that our great-great-grandparents married when they were little older than teenagers is little more than myth.The rising age at marriageThe rising age at marriage is not nearly as large if 1890 were the benchmark. Today the typical man marries when he is 29 years old. That is six years older than the historic low in 1956, but only three years older compared with 1890. The pattern for women is similar.

Age at marriage has risen in tandem with life expectancy

By itself, the rising age at marriage toward the end of the 20th century looks startling. Since 1975 it has risen 6 years for men and women. Nonetheless this increase should not be surprising. Because we are living longer, we should expect to be marrying at older ages.

In 1890 the average lifespan for men was just 43 years, but they did not marry until 26 (Figure 2). In other words, they did not marry for the first time until well over half way through their lifetime (Figure 2). Today, men can expect to live to 76, yet they marry at 29, about one third of the way through their lifetime (Figure 2).

Marrying older, but sooner? Graph showing men's first age at marriage from 1890-2010.If the proportion had remained at the same level as in 1890, men would not marry until they were 46 years old — 17 years later than they do today. Women would not marry until they were 40 (Figure 3).

Marrying older, but sooner? Graph showing women's age at first marriage from 1890-2010.Viewed in this light, the gains to life expectancy during the 20th century dwarf increases in the age at marriage. What is more, calling the rising age at marriage a delay ignores life expectancy, which is not accounted for when we compare ages in absolute terms. Thus despite marrying at older ages, Americans are actually marrying sooner in their lifetime than they did a century ago.

For more information, visit estimated median age at marriage and the Census working paper on historical marriage trends.

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Moving … County-to-County

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Written by: William Koerber and Melanie Rapino

Over the course of a year, how many Americans move to a new county? About 6 percent of the population age 1 and older, according to American Community Survey data gathered from 2007 to 2011.

The latest version of the county-to-county migration products are now available, including the updated Census Flows Mapper.  In 2011, there were 3,221 counties or county-equivalents (e.g., Louisiana parishes, Alaska boroughs, Virginia independent cities) in the U.S. That results in 10,371,620 (3,221 x 3,220) combinations of moves people could make between counties. 

 During the data collection period, almost 17 million people moved to a new county over the course of a year.  However, not all counties saw moves between them. In fact, most did not. The survey captured migration between 262,196 county pairs, averaging 64 movers between counties. The largest flows were from Los Angeles County to San Bernardino County, Calif. (41,764) and from Los Angeles to Orange County, Calif. (40,794).  (The estimates are not statistically different from each other.)

Our tool, the Census Flows Mapper, based on county-to-county flows, allows us not only to see where people are moving to and from, but also the net gain or loss for a county. 

Census Flows MapperThese migration products include the full county-to-county migration flow files, which are based on the current residence of respondents and the residence one year prior.  The estimates represent the number of movers between counties in a 12-month interval over the five-year period, similar to annual migration patterns averaged over five years.  Multiple years of American Community Survey data are used in order to get a more robust dataset. 

Because the American Community Survey is a sample of the population, there is a potential variability in the estimates.  We statistically measure this by using the coefficient of variation (CV), the ratio of the standard error of the estimate to the estimate itself – a measure of relative variability between estimates. 

The table below shows the distribution of county pairs by the number of movers and their associated CVs.  A CV of 0.61 or over means that there is a high potential of variability for those estimates.  For the most part, the estimates with high potential variability or high CVs are smaller flows of 100 or fewer people and have less impact on migration trends for a given county, especially one with a larger overall population. 

The inclusion of all flows, even the smaller ones with high CVs, allow users to collapse counties into larger areas (e.g., metropolitan areas, states, remainder of U.S.) and thus customize their own geographies or flows in addition to other potential research uses. 


Number of Movers






Over 10,000

























0.61 and over






Besides the basic county-to-county tables, the package also includes tables by selected characteristics (educational attainment, individual income and household income), Census Flows Mapper tool for visual representation of the flows, working paper with findings and a PowerPoint tutorial.  Additional tables use minor civil divisions for selected states rather than counties. The minor civil divisions in those states provide a wide range of government services, and in the case of New England, are the primary government unit at the substate level.

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Beyond a Bachelor’s Degree: Big Gains for Graduate School Attainment

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Written by: Jessica Davis

The number of people with some graduate education now exceeds the number who have just a bachelor’s degree –36 million to 30 million, one of the interesting findings in the newly released 2013 educational attainment table package.

The Great Recession, which started in December 2007, saw the economy and job growth decline. Adults without job prospects will sometimes stay in school to further their education but also with the anticipation that when they finish, employment opportunities will be greater.

A recent Census Bureau release showed a  4.5 million student increase in college enrollment since 2001.  As a consequence  of the increase in enrollment,  educational attainment has also increased in recent years. In 2013, 65.6 million adults age 25 and over had a bachelor’s degree or higher (31.7 percent), up from 50 million in 2003 (27.2 percent).

Population 25 and over who have a bachelor's degree or higher

An interesting aspect of the increase in education has been the rising tendency of people with a bachelor’s degree to return to school and get more education. The number of adults who have completed some graduate school increased 24 percent from 2008 to 2013, from 29 million to 36 million. That is to say, 7 million more people have experienced at least some graduate school education than was the case five years ago. As you can see, going to graduate school for additional education beyond a college degree has become the majority experience for those with a bachelor’s degree.

It is too early to tell how many people will end up with graduate degrees out of the total who have continued their education beyond college. However, a large portion have already completed a graduate degree. The number of adults completing a master’s degree grew by 18 percent from 2008 to 2013, and the number completing a professional or doctoral degree grew by 20 percent. By comparison, the number with a bachelor’s degree who haven’t pursued any further education has shown little growth—only a 2 percent increase over the past five years.

Posted in Education | 2 Comments