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Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

How Different Is New York City From The United States?

The population and demographics of New York City are vastly different from most of the United States. Immigrants from the heartland know that this is so, but many long time city residents forget that New York City is not the United States. The recent annual meeting of the demographers (the Population Association of America) in Minneapolis drove this point home.


Compared to the rest of the United States, New York City is a city of immigrants and their children. The United States overall is 11 percent foreign born; New York City is 36 percent foreign born. While 82 percent of those that live in the United States speak only English at home, in New York City only 52 percent do so. New York City draws its immigrants from many different countries, while much of United States immigration is from Mexico. As happened at the turn of the century, immigration renewed New York City, but it is doing so by making the city a place vastly different from the rest of the United States.

At the demographers convention by contrast one of the largest trends seen now affecting virtually every European country and parts of the United States are declining birth rates (especially among the "white" population), increasing the proportion of old people compared to the younger population of workers. Women are not having enough babies to replace the population. A United Nations report indicates that to stem this massive trend the European Union would need 135 million immigrants by 2025.


Though fewer and fewer Americans in general are getting married, New York City is less married than the rest of America, which is probably not a surprise to viewers of Sex and the City. For the United States as a whole, about half of all adult men and women are living with their spouses; for New York City, it is about two-fifths, and in Manhattan alone the figure is not even one-third, which makes it the least paired-up major county in America. In their book, The Case for Marriage, Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher show that married people generally live longer and better by many measures than single people. Of course one does not know if those who are more likely to be healthy and wealthy get married or if marriage brings one health and wealth.


A series of other trends also affect New York City much more than other parts of the United States, including concentration of poverty, income inequality and its spatial concentration, the special needs of the immigrant populations, health disparities.

Though demographers at the Population Association of America conference came from across the country and around the world, many of the great demographic training centers are in the Midwest and the West. None are in New York, but the city is home to some of the premier demographic institutions including the Alan Guttmacher Institute, and the Population Council. Sometimes the sort of social science conducted by demographers has been derisively called "dustbowl empiricism" in recognition of its midwestern flavor. One cannot help but be struck by how mid-American most US demographers appear. So maybe it is not a surprise that the demographic trends shaping New York are not central to the concerns of most US demographers.

UPDATE: Racial Classification, the Census, and DNA

The great debate about how to collect data on race, Hispanic status and ethnicity and ancestry continued unabated at the Population Association of America conference. At one session a well-known sociologist and demographer made the stunning suggestion that perhaps a good way to classify the racial background of people in the United States would be to use DNA testing. According to this researcher, one can discover the proportion of various racial origins for a specific person by using DNA testing. He cited various websitesthat offer this service. The results of this test purports to provide racial proportions of one's ancestry based upon various regions of the world - which can be directly mapped to races. In a way, this is the high tech version of the 1890 Census interviewer instruction that asked about the racial proportion of the respondent's blood. Panelists and members of the audience questioned the scientific basis of the procedure, while treating the suggestion as absurd.

Andrew A. Beveridge has taught sociology at Queens College since 1981. Since 1993 he has done demographic analyses and consulted for the New York Times. He has provided expert testimony in districting and redistricting, housing discrimination, and numerous other civil rights cases in the metropolitan area and elsewhere. The opinions expressed in Topics are his alone.












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