LOS ANGELES — In another sign that Hispanics will dominate California’s future, a university study has found that the ethnic group accounted for nearly half of all births in the state by the end of the last decade.
Hispanic mothers had 247,796 of the 521,265 children born in California in 1998, or 47.5 percent, according to the University of California, Los Angeles study scheduled to be formally released Wednesday.
Non-Hispanic whites had 33.9 percent, followed by Asians and Pacific Islanders with 10.7 percent. Blacks represented 6.8 percent of births and American Indians a half-percent of all births.
California’s future economic health depends upon those Hispanics, who will soon be the majority of young adults and hence the working force, said David Hayes-Bautista, director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at UCLA.
“We can see the future population of California looking into the delivery rooms of today,” he said. “We have a very few years to make some choices,” such as improving education.
The center’s study, based on state health department statistics, confirms the ethnic shift that made 2001 the year that California officially lost its white majority. The U.S. Census showed Hispanics made up nearly a third while non-Hispanic whites slipped to less than half of the state’s total population of 33.9 million.
California’s experience is part of a “sea change” in the United States, where 23 states already have Hispanics as their largest ethnic minority, said Harry Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, a Claremont think-tank on Latino issues.
Hispanics are becoming more prominent in everything from movies to politics, and that is good for the state, Pachon said.
“If there was no penetration of social and political institutions, then you would have an isolated minority and that’s a recipe for social unrest,” he said.
On the other hand, by the third generation one of every two Hispanics have married outside of their ethnic group, he noted.
“There’s a Latinization of America but there’s also an Americanization of Latinos,” he said. “By third generation, a lot of them are losing their Spanish, they prefer American NFL to soccer.”
The overall number of California births has been falling since the peak year of 1990 and the birth rate among all ethnic groups also has slowed. Hispanic births declined by 5.9 percent between 1993 and 1998.
Nearly half of all Hispanic births were in Los Angeles County. Nearly 62 percent of all births in the county were to Hispanics, rising to nearly three-fourths in Imperial County, which borders Mexico. With a few exceptions, the number of Hispanic births in the far northern counties was small.
The babies generally were as healthy as others, based on birth weight and mortality statistics, even though Hispanic mothers are less likely than others to receive prenatal care in the first trimester.
“In spite of low income, low education and low access to care, Latino babies have a healthy profile,” Hayes-Bautista said.
It is unclear why, he said, but other studies have shown that “in general, Latinas tend to smoke less, drink less, do drugs less — immigrants, especially.”
Overall, nearly 65 percent of all Hispanic mothers were immigrants, ranking them second to Asian and Pacific Islanders at more than 84 percent.
The babies tend to grow up healthy as well. Studies have shown that at virtually all stages of life, Hispanics, at least in California, Arizona and Texas, tended to suffer fewer major health problems such as heart attacks, cancer and strokes than other ethnic groups, Hayes-Bautista noted.
The study supported previous research indicating that Hispanics lack private medical insurance and were more likely to rely on Medi-Cal. More than 58 percent of Hispanic mothers relied on the state program to pay for their deliveries — a higher percentage than any other ethnic group.
Only about 15 percent of Hispanic mothers were 19 years old or younger. By comparison nearly 17 percent of blacks and 19 percent of American Indians were teen-agers. Non-Hispanic whites had a figure of nearly 7 percent.