Book Review of The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050 by Joel Kotkin

Book Review of The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050 by Bryce Petersen
This Book Review of The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050 By Joel Kotkin is brought to you from Bryce Petersen from the Titans of Investing.

Genre: Economy, Non-fiction
Author: Joel Kotkin
Book: The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050 (Buy the Book)


The United States is growing at a record pace. According to the most conservative estimates, America will be home to four hundred million people by the middle of the 21st century, roughly one hundred million more than live here today. Through extensive research and historical analysis, author Joel Kotkin reveals how this dramatic population growth will take shape and why this expansion is so important to the future economic stability of the nation.

In a time of intense pessimism regarding the future of the United States, Kotkin’s The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050 looks beyond the short-term hardships and provides an optimistic forecast of a stronger and more diverse nation.

While global population growth has slowed in recent decades, the United States has maintained a continued population expansion thanks to a high fertility rate, as well as large-scale immigration.  As a result of this expansion, the US in 2050 will look vastly different than it does today.  For example, the demographics of the country will see remarkable changes.  

By 2050, there will no longer be a clear “majority race,” due to both immigration and differences in birth rates. According to several projections, by 2039 the majority of working-age Americans will be “minorities.” This dynamic is different from many other developed nations, which are less receptive to immigration and will remain more ethnically homogenous.  

By being more accepting of immigrants, the US will be more able to combat the effects of an aging population and remain more youthful and dynamic than many other advanced countries.

An increased population will also have an effect on how cities evolve in the country, and thus how citizens organize their lives.  Kotkin believes that in 2050, most American cities will follow the “Los Angeles Model,” with its dispersed economic and residential pattern, rather than the traditional downtown urban model of cities like New York and Chicago.  

He notes that LA-style cities such as Phoenix and Houston have demonstrated the strongest growth trends in recent years, and expects these trends to continue. Though there will continue to be denser “luxury cities” populated by the particularly well-off, average Americans will continue to prefer cars to public transportation, and will want to live in less dense neighborhoods that provide the basic necessities of good schools and churches, as well as middle-class economic opportunities at a reasonable cost of living.

This trend toward suburban-style living will lead to a renaissance in America’s Heartland, the vast, sparsely populated Midwest region of the country.  As advances in telecommunication and transportation make geographical proximity less of a necessity for doing business, this primarily agriculture-focused area will diversify economically and begin to support a larger proportion of the population.

Rural areas, while predominantly white now, will begin to attract more immigrant families who follow the traditional values typically associated with rural living.  Attracted to a more spacious and less congested way of life, people will flood into the heartland, and higher-wage, more productive industries will follow, making the region a major hub in 2050 America.

The United States is a country founded on and sustained by optimism.  Even during the Great Depression, the Second World War, and other trying times, Americans maintained confidence in a bright future.  The coming decades’ growth in population brings its own challenges – among them, resource depletion and the impact of human development on global climate – but the United States will persevere as it always has, through ingenuity, robust demographics, and rich natural resources (including newly exploitable energy reserves).

With the addition of the next hundred million people, a prosperous America will require responsive governments, well planned communities, and most importantly, families and individuals willing to take advantage of opportunities in order to create a strong, vibrant economy. Ultimately, the path to a successful America in 2050 lies in what Robert Bellah has called America’s “civil religion,” its ability to forge a unique purpose amid great diversity of people and place.

“None of it will be easy, and certainly much can go wrong. Still, we have no reason to lose faith in the possibilities of the future. For all its problems, America remains, as the journalist John Gunther suggested over sixty years ago, “lousy with greatness.” The elements essential to forge a successful nation of four hundred million remain very much within our reach, there for the taking.”

-Joel Kotkin, The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050


The United States is growing at a record pace. According to the most conservative estimates, America will be home to four hundred million people by the middle of the 21st century, roughly one hundred million more than live here today. Through extensive research and historical analysis, author Joel Kotkin reveals how this dramatic population growth will take shape and why this expansion is so important to the future economic stability of the nation.

In a time of intense pessimism regarding the future of the United States, Kotkin’s The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050 looks beyond the short-term hardships and provides an optimistic forecast of a stronger and more diverse nation.

Described by the New York Times as America’s “uber-geographer,” Joel Kotkin has dedicated his career to the study of economic, political, and social trends. He is a Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, the author of six books, and writes the weekly “New Geographer” column for Forbes.


The United States in 2050 will look vastly different than it did at the beginning of the 21st century. An additional one hundred million people will create new problems, forcing existing cities to adapt and new communities to be built. The demand for new housing will increase significantly, especially in new suburban and exurban towns. Environmentally friendly technologies and improved infrastructures will be crucial to cope with the stresses of this growth.

In addition to the reshaping of geography, the population itself will experience a dramatic shift in diversity. The vast majority of America’s growth from now through 2050 will be in the populations of racial minorities.  By mid-century, America will shift from predominately white to a blend of several different racial, ethnic, and religious groups. This transformation, according to Kotkin, will make the United States the most ethnically diverse country in the world.

One of the most remarkable aspects of growth in the United States is its ability to expand in the midst of a global slowdown. Global population growth rates of two percent in the 1960s have dropped to less than half a percent. This downward trend is expected to continue, mainly
due to a drop in birthrates in developing countries.

By some estimates, the world’s population could peak as early as 2050 and begin to fall by the end of the century. In contrast, America’s high fertility rate and large-scale immigration continue to drive population expansion.


America’s ability to diverge from the rest of the world comes from its spirit of ingenuity, robust demographics, and the world’s largest and most productive expanse of arable land. Throughout history, the United States has shown its ability to adjust to economic challenges, from the Great Depression to the recent housing crisis.

American capitalism has created both enormous wealth and, as Kotkin stated, “a pattern of upward mobility unprecedented in world history.” In his view, the pessimistic notion that the United States is a nation in decline completely underestimates the proven adaptability of the American people throughout history.


As pressing concerns over global energy intensify, America’s vast abundance of natural resources will become a primary advantage. While the belief in a commodity rich America faded in the 1950s when we became a net importer of raw materials, the United States still retains enormous energy resources. Texas, Louisiana, Wyoming and other parts of the country possess huge reserves of coal and other carbon-based energies.

The recent large-scale discoveries of natural gas have boosted future domestic energy supplies and revived the idea that America can be energy independent in the future.

Alternative forms of energy will also play a pivotal role in supporting a nation of four hundred million, especially as energy technology improves. By 2030, ExxonMobil expects a 22 percent drop in oil demand, due in large part to incentives for new energy sources.

Recent estimates suggest that the United States has the capacity to produce  1.3 billion tons of biomass a year, enough to replace up to 30 percent or more of the current demand for transportation fuels.


By 2050, America will have no clear “majority race.” The nonwhite population in the United States, which stands at roughly 30 percent today, could reach nearly 50 percent by the middle of the 21st  century. Growth in the Latino population will depend increasingly on birthrates, rather than immigration.

Today, because of high birthrates, one in five American children under the age of five is Hispanic. This multi-racial growth stands in sharp contrast to many other developed nations, who seem more resistant to immigration. The cultures of China, Japan, and Korea are especially unlikely to welcome large-scale immigration, even if their labor force “has to go to work in walkers and wheelchairs.”

The United States will also have to cope with an aging population, but Kotkin maintains it will remain relatively young and dynamic due to immigration and increased diversity.


In a globalized society, knowledge and information have the tendency to create wider class divisions. This has led to more difficult mobility, especially for those with limited access to quality education. A key contributing factor to the widening income gap is the massive difference in the quality of schooling between poor and affluent areas.

According to Kotkin, the most difficult challenge facing the United States in the coming decades will be preserving the prospect of upward mobility. Historically, the American population has believed the notion that success ultimately rests in their hands.

This idea has contributed to the ability of the nation to persevere through times of economic distress and will be critical as the population grows.  The diminishing prospects of success could be especially acute among younger workers,  who have been greatly affected by the recent recession.


New American cities have resulted from population growth, technological improvements, and affluent citizens who could afford to purchase cars and homes. A younger  American population has led to an emphasis on suburban development and single-family homes.

In Kotkin’s view, most of the urban growth will take place in cities like Houston, Los Angeles, and Phoenix, rather than the older, more traditional cities like New York and Chicago. The “Los Angeles Model,” as Kotkin calls it, will capture the majority of new growth with its multipolar, auto-dependent, and geographically vast nature.

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Los  Angeles,  with  its  dispersed  economic  and  residential  pattern,  has  frequently  been described as the by urban theorists as the “anti-city.” Kotkin suggests that cities following L.A. model will be home to new urban growth. Cities like these, created from a collection of rural suburbs, represent a fundamental change in urban development.

We are unlikely to see any future New Yorks or Chicagos, with thriving centers, skyscrapers, and expanses of tall apartment buildings. Los Angeles rejected the traditional urban model, replacing it with a collection of smaller subcenters.

While Los Angeles has struggled in recent history with rising land and housing prices, cities like Phoenix and Houston adopted the model and drew ambitious newcomers seeking a better life. The downtown core of these cities plays a relatively minor role; less than 3 percent of all workers in the L.A. and Phoenix regions work in the downtown area, compared to 20 percent in the New York and Washington D.C. regions.

Because of this, Phoenix and Los Angeles have often been criticized by leading urban thinkers as lacking style and culture. However, as new telecommunications and transportation technologies develop, industrial-age downtowns acting as economic, cultural, and demographic centers will become insignificant.

The lack of a central urban core does not mean these new cities will simply become a collection of suburban communities. Phoenix and others like it have adopted a multipolar approach, with a series of dense, vital centers.

While a less concentrated design means many residents will travel to work in cars rather than using public transportation or walking, Phoenix, Houston, Atlanta, and even Los Angeles have shorter average commute times than more transit-dependent cities such as New York and Chicago.


The rise of aspirational cities following the Los Angeles model does not mean the traditional city will become obsolete. Another urban model, called the “superstar city” by Wharton’s Joe Gyourko, will likely develop by 2050. These cities will serve not as engines for opportunity but rather abodes for those who already sit at the “apex of society.”

These urban areas can still offer upward mobility to those who possess the education, wealth, and connections to afford residence there; but for the most part, the middle and working classes will not be able to improve their standards of living.

Kotkin notes that a person who earns $50,000 in Houston would need $115,769 in Manhattan to achieve the same level of comfort. Because of this exorbitant cost of living, these luxury cities have seen a continuous loss of middle- and working-class families, especially those with young children.


Contrary to what some urban theorists believe, Kotkin argues that cities cannot thrive on the hopes that “empty nesters” will move back or that high energy prices will force Americans back into inner cities.  Nor can they prosper with what he refers to as  “glamour zone” economies, based on arts, culture and high technology.

Most people move for relatively straightforward reasons: a suitable job, a decent school, proximity to relatives, and a safe neighborhood. These priorities are likely to remain the same, even with the many changes of the coming decades.

To maximize growth in the next forty years, cities will need to push for neighborhoods that are more “plain vanilla,” with trees, an attractive but low-key shopping street, and comfortable homes or apartments. The challenge for these neighborhoods will be to create economic opportunities for residents while preserving the basics of middle-class life: good schools, safe streets, and thriving churches.


Future suburbs will attempt to break the traditional boundaries between urban and rural settings. Valencia, California was founded on this premise of mixed housing in a preserved natural environment, with a thriving town center.  Planned communities like Valencia represent one of the economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable ways to accommodate the next hundred million Americans.

Concerns do still exist for this type of suburban development. The effects on suburban growth by the recent financial crisis and housing crash increased fears about the longevity of towns like Valencia.

However, historical trends favor the suburbs, which, on average, remain more affluent than cities. In fact, during the 1990s, per capita income growth in the suburbs was twice that of the cities.

The shift to suburbia has been caused mainly by the American desire to live in a less dense area. A survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors found that 83 percent of potential buyers prefer a single family home. Suburbs provide affordability of homes, as well as lower crime rates and less traffic.

Future generations of Americans will live in suburbs because they represent the best, most practical choice for raising their families and enjoying the benefits of community.


Among the more advanced countries in the world, America has the greatest expanse of land and number of resources. The vast, sparsely populated American Heartland, located in the Midwest region of the United States, constitutes most of this land.

As our nation’s population climbs to four hundred million, the Heartland arguably represents the great opportunity region of the 21st century. While agriculture will remain a critical component of its economy, high-technology services, communications, energy production,  manufacturing, and warehouses will serve as critical sources of employment and wealth creation.


The Heartland will be a vital component for accommodating growth during the 21st  century. In recent years, environmentalists have raised concerns that urban expansion and suburban development in the Heartland would stifle the farming industry and exhaust natural resources. While America has seen some loss in farmland in the last thirty years, the amount of land actually used for growing crops has remained stable.

To conserve resources and meet the need of an expanding population, the United States will have to shift to new fuels. A shift to alternative forms of energy would create jobs and reduce our dependence on imported fuels and chemicals. Slowing down, or even reversing, the flow of capital to often hostile, oil-rich countries in the Middle East would also help increase national security.

In addition to biofuels, America will rely on wind as a sustainable source of energy in the future. The Great Plains has been referred to as “the Saudi Arabia of wind,” with enough wind power in North Dakota alone to provide 20 percent of the nation’s electrical needs.


As technology advances in telecommunication and transportation, the Heartland will move beyond a purely food and fuel production economy. The Internet has greatly diminished the metropolis’s historic near-monopoly on the information.

A Heartland-based farmer, securities dealer, machine shop worker, or software designer now has virtually the same access to the latest market data and technical information as someone in Manhattan or Silicon Valley. As the region develops, this access could allow individuals and businesses to take advantage of the land availability and low housing costs.


Rural areas are thought by many to exemplify the traditional values of family, religion, and self-sufficiency.  These perceptions suggest that there is a significant segment of the population that would consider a move to the Heartland in the near future.

A large portion of this growth could come as a result of immigration. Although the Heartland has historically been largely unaffected by the country’s broader demographic changes, the region is now seeing a new wave of immigration that has turned some rural places, like Finney County, Kansas, into “majority, minority” counties.

From an economic point of view, immigration has transformed dying places into enlivened ones. Lexington, Nebraska saw a revival in the 1990s when a largely Hispanic migration took place and reversed years of considerable depopulation.  While the Heartland is still predominately white, the region is quickly becoming more diverse and will likely continue to move toward the demographic vitality associated with more urbanized areas.


In contrast to the old industrial standard, where jobs are grouped in the densest areas, economic growth is now moving toward less dense areas. Much of this is due to the “declustering” of industries from their traditional urban center, such as California’s  Silicon Valley and New York City’s financial sector, to less-dense, less-expensive areas like Sioux Falls, Des Moines, and Fargo.

This trend is evidenced by the fact that, between 1961 and 1996, American jobs located in the densest areas declined from 84 percent to 66 percent.

The ability of  Heartland economies to gain in high-wage sectors like business services, finance, and logistics will be critical to the growth of jobs in the region. Along with the desire for less dense areas, lower-cost, more business-friendly places will provide incentives for businesses and individuals to move from the traditional centers.

As industrial work becomes more productive and less job-generating, the Heartland economy will depend more on the migration of information-sector workers and industries. One significant trend, which New England researcher Amy Zuckerman has called “hidden tech,” is the growing concentrations of tech workers in various non-metropolitan regions.

Although rural America is often perceived as lacking an educated workforce, nonmetropolitan areas of the Great Plains and New England are actually experiencing a skill “surplus,” with a core consisting of highly educated young people.

Students in Nebraska,  the Dakotas, Montana,  and Idaho tend to perform better in school than those in metropolitan areas. Because of this, the Heartland has the opportunity to become the “brain belt” of the 21st century.

Overall, the Heartland can offer the expanded population a chance to enjoy more spacious and less congested lives than can be found or easily afforded in the largest cities.

As technology improves, the Heartland will become more connected and less geographically isolated. It will provide businesses with new locales to produce competitive goods and services and serve as an outlet for the creative and entrepreneurial skills of its rising population.


Throughout the 21st century, the fate of America and other western countries will depend on their ability to welcome people whose origins lie outside Europe. According to Kotkin, the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain, Germany, and France all lack sufficient birthrates for children of European decent to prevent them from becoming “granny nation-states” by 2050.

Successful immigration will be critical to maintaining youthful energy and growth. While Europe has received as many immigrants in recent decades as the United States, it has proven far less able to absorb them. Immigrants in European countries can receive welfare more easily than they can join the workforce, which contributes to the growing economic segregation.

In France, unemployment among immigrants is often twice that of native-born residents. In the United States, on the other hand, immigrant workers with lower education levels tend to be working more than their nonimmigrant counterparts. In general, the integrative process in America over the past century has proved more successful than that of Europe.

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America’s general receptivity to immigrants and the belief that the national identity transcends race or religion is a critical difference between it and other advanced countries. Immigration has accelerated in America,  especially after 9/11,  which fueled a sense of urgency among immigrants concerned about tightening immigration policies.

In fact, the United States swore in more citizens in 2005 than the next nine countries put together. The majority of the nation’s immigrants, both undocumented and legal, come from developing countries: China, India, Mexico, the Philippines, and the Middle East.

According to several projections, by 2039 the majority of working-age Americans will be “minorities,” largely due to immigrants and their offspring. Most demographers agree that by 2050, if not sooner, non- Hispanic whites will be in the minority.


Although immigrants continue to play a vital role in urban areas, minority populations are also moving to the periphery, pushing businesses to the geographic fringes of major cities. In the first decade of the 21st century, immigrants chose to live in homes in the suburbs at rates approximately equivalent to native-born residents. Much of this movement can be attributed to rising housing costs, along with the desire for more space and better access to employment.

Suburbs, often derided by urban theorists for their uniformity and homogeneity, are becoming the new melting pots of American society. In the coming decades, suburbs, exurbs, and smaller communities will become more ethnically blended than the urban settlements that predominated at the turn of the 20th  century. These outlying areas will epitomize American diversity, just as major cities once did.


Despite a growing immigrant base, English will continue to be the principle language, even in immigrant-heavy communities. Ninety percent of Latino high school graduates prefer English to Spanish and only seven percent of the children of immigrants speak Spanish as a primary language. Latino parents are even beginning to give their children Anglo names, according to a 2009 Pew Hispanic Center study.

In future generations, bilingualism is expected to continue to decline. The effective integration of immigrants is evident in the enduring dominance of English in America and will further what Kotkin calls the “hybridization” of minorities and Anglos.


As our nation manages the next hundred million residents, the development of families, neighborhoods, and communities will become increasingly important. With a more dispersed and ever-more-diverse population and more children than other developed countries, America will face different challenges than the generally homogeneous and aging cultures of Europe and East Asia.


Social networking and instant messaging, along with other forms of technology, have begun to replace and supplement the traditional community adhesives of schools, churches, synagogues, and clubs. These new technologies can help bring Americans closer together by facilitating integrations such as helping children with homework or coping with illness or other life changes.

Many neighborhoods around the country have set up networks to allow residents to communicate and interact.  Information concerning new store arrivals, criminal threats, and other announcements will spread much more quickly and easily. This will ultimately mean increased community involvement and public participation.


Although many associate single, independent individuals with prosperity, it is married people with children who tend to be more successful and motivated. According to the 2000 census, they are twice as likely to be in the top 20 percent of earners and have incomes rising significantly faster than the national average.

In Kotkin’s view, families will help drive economic growth and must be the primary focus of our community efforts. In future decades, the expansion of broadband communications and teleconferencing will give families the opportunity to work more from home.

This process will be accelerated as the cost of commuting by car increases. The shift to at-home work would create new opportunities to find the balance between productive work and family life.


For a civilization to survive, it must be built around something beyond the narrow interests of the individual. In America, it has largely revolved around religion. According to a Pew Global Attitudes survey, roughly 60 percent of Americans believe religion is “very important,” twice the rate of Canadians,  Britons, Koreans, or Italians and six  times the rate of French or Japanese.  

Many secular  Americans, particularly those within academia in urban centers, dismiss the validity of religious groups, preferring to emulate the secularism of Europe. Sociologist Phil Zuckerman claims that European secularism has undermined the need for religious institutions with its high level of social development, welfare protections, and low crime rate. Over time, though, religious influence is unlikely to decline as spiritual people are more likely to have offspring than non-believers.

Patterns of religious affiliation in the United States will continue to change throughout the 21st century. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus are now well-recognized participants in our nation’s spiritual life. In fact, America today has more Muslims than Episcopalians.

Even among this diversity, Christianity will continue to be the country’s dominant religion. In the past fifty years, the United States has added an estimated one hundred million Christians, equal to the number that were added in the nation’s first two hundred years.


The United States is a country founded on and sustained by optimism. Even during the Great Depression, the Second World War, and other trying times, Americans maintained confidence in a bright future. Amid the recent struggles associated with the recession, academic and journalistic forecasts for the future of our nation have been increasingly pessimistic.

Though these bleak predictions can serve as barriers against complacency, Kotkin believes that America’s unique combination of high fertility, great diversity, and enormous physical assets will generate growth in the future. In stark contrast to China and Japan, America’s population of working-age and young people is expected to continue upward, further propelling economic growth.

While concerns over resource depletion and the impact of human development on global climate should be considered and used to inform future policies, attempts to quickly reduce the carbon footprint could have negative economic implications.

With a rapidly expanding population and limited economic growth, Americans would have to accept a significant decline in their standards of living. Communities, notably suburbs, will need to be designed with ecological and social sustainability in mind.

A diverse, multiracial population will continue to develop throughout the 21st century. Future generations will likely see race diminish as an indicator of economic prosperity. Instead of race, the most pressing social problem facing America in 2050 will be class.

Maintaining the prospect of upward mobility will be crucial in the survival of the middle class. Americans tend to believe their efforts can lead to a better life; destroying these aspirations with stagnant wage growth could be devastating to the economy.

With the addition of the next hundred million people, a prosperous America will require responsive governments, well planned communities, and most importantly, families and individuals willing to take advantage of opportunities in order to create a strong, vibrant economy.

Ultimately, the path to a successful America in 2050 lies in what Robert Bellah has called America’s “civil religion,” its ability to forge a unique purpose amid great diversity of people and place. would like to thank the Titans of Investing for allowing us to publish this content. Titans is a student organization founded by Britt Harris. Learn more about the organization and the man behind it by clicking either of these links.

Britt always taught us Titans that Wisdom is Cheap, and principal can find treasure troves of the good stuff in books. We hope only will also express their thanks to the Titans if the book review brought wisdom into their lives.


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