According to a report in the Washington Post, more white people died in the United States last year than were born. A slump that comes more than a decade before the Census Bureau predicted that the ranks of white Americans will likely begin to drop with every passing year.

Population estimates for 2012 released Thursday show a natural decrease (a straightforward calculation of births minus deaths) of about 12,400 people among the nation’s 198 million non-Hispanic whites.

Although the percentage is small, several demographers said they are not aware of another time in U.S. history when there was such shrinkage among the dominant racial group. No other group showed a similar falloff.

The decrease was offset by 188,000 white immigrants, most from Canada and Germany but also from Russia and Saudi Arabia. And non-Hispanic whites remain the single largest group, making up 63 percent of the country.

A number of demographic and economic factors are behind the slowdown that has been underway for several years.

As a group, non-Hispanic whites are considerably older than anyone else, with a median age of 42. The median age for Asians is 34. For African Americans, it’s under 32; for Hispanics, it’s under 28.

Women with college degrees of all races have been delaying marriage and childbearing to the end of their 20s and beyond, until they have finished their educations and established careers. Once they settle down, they tend to have fewer children. Census figures also show that white women are far more likely to be childless than Hispanic or African American women.

The recession that began in late 2007 exacerbated those long-term trends. Fertility rates have been slowly dropping since 2007. For white women, they are now below the level considered necessary to keep the population at a stable level. During the recession, researchers found that women without health insurance or whose partners were unemployed were reluctant to have more children when they could least afford them.

This latest demographic fall is not the first harbinger of the future: Earlier this year, census figures showed that for the first time in U.S. history, a majority of babies were minorities.

The decline in the non-Hispanic white population has happened more quickly than demographers with the Census Bureau predicted. That’s because births and immigration levels, which can counter the drop, have slowed more than expected in recent years.

Census demographers expect the growth rate for non-Hispanic whites to resume rising – slowly – when the economy improves. The number for whites should peak in 2024, when the oldest baby boomers, who are overwhelmingly non-Hispanic whites, are well into their 70s and dying in larger numbers.

SOURCE: The Washington Post “White Deaths Outnumber Births for First Time