Introduction & Overview

Population Growth and Distribution

The African American population today is comprised of individuals of mixed ethnic and cultural heritage. The slave trade resulted in a diaspora from West and Central Africa to many parts of the world, including the West Indies, South America, Central America and the United States.

Over the centuries in all of these parts of the world, the African has mixed with other local ethnic groups. In America this intermixing has largely been with American Indians and European Americans.

There has been continuous growth in the overall population of Blacks in the United States since 1790. In 1790, the year of the first U.S. census, the Black population numbered about 757,000. Since 1970 there has been considerable growth in the population of Blacks.

The growth in the proportion of Blacks 65 and over since 1970, in comparison to the growth rate of Blacks under 18 years and those 18 to 64 years, shows a considerably more rapid rate for the older group than for the younger age groups.

This pattern is accounted for in part by a decline in the fertility rate among Blacks that began in the late 1960s. Given an expectation of (1) a continuing decline in the fertility rate, (2) further improvements in health care, and (3) increased life expectancy of Blacks, this pattern of growth in the number of persons 65 and over is expected to continue (Watson, 1982).

By 1990, the population of Blacks in the United States totalled more than 30 million people. According to the US Census, the black population increased by 1.3 percent, or 522,000, between 2005 and 2006. To date, over 35.6 million Americans are aged 65 and over. Over the next forty years, the number of people aged 65 and older is expected to double and the number of people aged 85 and older is expected to triple and rise to almost 10 million aged 65 and over by 2050 ( Figure 1). Data on the subgroups of Haitian older adults or those from African or other Caribbean backgrounds are not available.

Changes in Geographic Distribution

Along with growth in the population of Blacks, there have been noticeable changes in their geographical distribution in the United States. In 1890, the year of the first census in which data were made available on urban-rural distribution of Blacks, 80% of all Blacks lived in the rural southern United States.

By 1970, however, the 1890 patterns were reversed: about 81% of Blacks had become concentrated in urban areas. Most recently, the US Census (2006) reports New York having the largest black population (3.5 million), followed by Florida (3 million) and Texas (2.9 million).