If you’re considering the ethnic and racial makeup of your office with regard to creating future learning and development programs, information published in this year’s World Population Data Sheet should be of interest. The Data Sheet is a wall chart that gives the basic population, health and environment indicators for more than 200 countries, including the United States. The United States is currently one of the few countries in the world with fertility rates, or the number of births per woman, that are not falling. At a rate of just over two children per woman, the United States has achieved what William Butz, president of the Population Reference Bureau, says is a unique status.
“In some European countries—Germany, Italy, Romania—and on into some central Asian countries the birth rates are more like 1.2 per woman, and they’re falling,” Butz said. “The contrast that is most interesting is between the United States and the other industrialized or developed countries—Europe, Canada, New Zealand Australia, Japan—where the fertility rates are below the level that is needed for the population to replace itself. That level is about 2.1 on average. The reason for that is some people die before they become of childbearing age, and some people don’t have children so it takes a little more than two to replace the parents. In none of the European or eastern European countries, the members of the European union, is the fertility rate at the replacement level.”
The racial and ethnic composition of the United States also is changing rapidly. “From year to year, one doesn’t notice much change,” Butz explained. “But if one takes the U.S. historically, or looks at other countries, the racial ethnic proportions in the United States are changing rapidly.”
The white non-Hispanic population is declining, while the Hispanic population overall is rising the fastest of all major groups. Second fastest is the Asian and Pacific Island population, and third the black population. Further, the sizes of those various groups are very different. The white non-Hispanic population is still the largest in the United States, but that population is aging and its fertility rate is on par with that of a country such as France, about 1.8 children per woman, which is not enough to replace itself. By contrast, the Hispanic population has a fertility rate of about 2.8 children per woman, more than is needed for replacement.
Butz added that increasing residential mobility and job mobility in the United States affect the available workforce for any given organization. “In the U.S., about 16 percent of our people change residences every year,” Butz said. “We’re among the most mobile people in the world if you consider voluntary movement as opposed to situations with refugees and wars. That means that businesses can’t count on the workforce and their children to be there. You haven’t been able to do that for a long time.”
Additionally, about one out of four of people in this country were either born somewhere else or their parents were born somewhere else, which is relevant to the learning/business landscape because of the inherent language and cultural constrictions. “It has implications in the language in which people need to be trained and in which they’re working,” Butz said. “The evidence is that immigrant populations do pick up English so by the second generation so it’s not so much of a problem, but we’ve got a fourth of us in the first or second generation, and it’s not just their language. Everything they bring with them—their customs, their work habits, what they value or don’t value in the workplace, the flexibility or lack of it in hours of work, what they may be used to in terms of amenities, insurance, retirement, recreation—all of those things vary by ethnic group. And we have such a variety of ethnic groups in this country that employers that are going to minimize their retention and turnover losses are going to be paying attention to this.”
Butz said that employers have known for a long time that they should treat every one equitably, but a smart employer doesn’t treat everybody equally. “That’s true in spades now, and if you’re not aware of it, some people are going to be uncomfortable,” Butz said. “Another implication of this increasing racial, ethnic and language diversity is combined with the mobility. Together you have a dispersion of ethnicities and ancestries in the U.S. that’s really extraordinary and changing fast. If you’re an employer, you really have to be aware of that because it affects everything from recruiting to personnel and beyond.”
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