Getting Ready for the 300 Millionth American

In 1967, when the population reached 200 million, Life magazine dispatched 23 photographers to locate the baby and devoted a five-page spread to its search. Instead of deciding on a statistically valid symbol of the average American newborn, the magazine chose the one born at precisely the appointed time. The NY Times had this today.

“Life immortalized Robert Ken Woo Jr. of Atlanta, whose parents, a computer programmer and a chemical engineer, had immigrated seven years earlier from China. Mr. Woo graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and is a litigator. Now 38, he still lives in Atlanta with his wife, Angie, who is also a lawyer, and their three daughters.

“He did feel an obligation to do well,” Ms. Woo said. “But I think he would have done well, regardless.”

This time, like last, the selection is subject to all manner of qualifications, not the least of which is the conceit that the census can measure individuals so precisely as to determine the exact time that the population tops 300 million or, playing the odds, can define the average American newborn.

Still, demographers do know that the United States, which ranks third in population behind China and India, is still gaining people while many other industrialized nations are not. (Japan, officials there announced last month, has begun shrinking.) Driven by immigration and higher fertility rates, particularly among newcomers from abroad, the United States’ population is growing by just under 1 percent annually, the equivalent of the entire population of Chicago (2.8 million).

Given the demographic changes recorded in the 20th century, the 300 millionth American, born in the same year the first baby boomers turn 60, will be a very different person from the paradigm in 1915, when the nation’s estimated population passed 100 million, or even in 1967, when it topped 200 million.”