Preliminary census estimates also show the share of African-American households headed by women — mostly single mothers — now exceeds African-American households with married couples, a sign of declining U.S. marriages overall but also of continuing challenges for black youths without involved fathers.
The findings, based on the latest government data, offer a preview of final 2010 census results being released this summer that provide detailed breakdowns by age, race and householder relationships.
Demographers say the numbers provide the clearest confirmation yet of a changing social order, one in which racial and ethnic minorities will become the U.S. majority by midcentury.
"We're moving toward an acknowledgment that we're living in a different world than the 1950s, where married or two-parent heterosexual couples are now no longer the norm for a lot of kids, especially kids of color," said Laura Speer, coordinator of the Kids Count project for the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation.
"It's clear the younger generation is very demographically different from the elderly, something to keep in mind as politics plays out on how programs for the elderly get supported," she said. "It's critical that children are able to grow to compete internationally and keep state economies rolling."
Currently, non-Hispanic whites make up just under half of all children 3 years old, which is the youngest age group shown in the Census Bureau's October 2009 annual survey, its most recent. In 1990, more than 60 percent of children in that age group were white.