237 277 244 343 345 357 524 793 1,367
Indian life expectancy has also shown a remarkable improvement from 1940-1980. In 1940 the life expectancy was 51.6, in 1950 it was 60, in 1970 it was 65.1, and in 1980 it was up to 71.1 years (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1985). An American Indian female born after 1980 can reasonably expect to live to the year 2055 based on the current average lifetime of 75 years.
Some other demographic indicators show that the family size of American Indians has reduced over time. There are several demographic indicators available to look at the pace of childbearing in the families. Age-specific fertility and children ever born are two commonly used measures of childbearing behavior (also known as parity), reflecting cumulative, lifetime fertility. This mirrors long-term processes such as changing norms regarding desirable family size and the use of contraceptives.
The age group 20-24 is usually the most fertile age group, and if we look at this group, it seems that their fertility has declined during the recent years. Beginning in 1965, Indian women aged 20-24 gave birth to approximately 2.2 children per woman. Ten years later Indian woman of the same age showed a marked reduction in their fertility by having only 1.6 children per woman (Snipp, 1989). The reduction in American Indian fertility can be seen in terms of overall TFR also. Snipp notes that between 1965 and 1969, their TFR was approximately 3.4 children per woman. Ten years later, it dropped to about 2.4 children per woman, a reduction of 29%.
American Indians, like the other ethnic categories, exemplify the concept of fluidity of ethnic identity (Eschbach, Khalil, & Snipp, 1998), a caveat expressed at the beginning of this chapter. Most American Indians have multiracial identities because of their history of intermarriage among American Indians and members of other racial and ethnic groups (Eschbach, 1995).
Between 1970 and 1990, the American Indian population increased in excess of what might be expected based on fertility, mortality, or immigration factors. The increase noted in the U.S. Census between 1970 and 1990 of American Indians is attributable to changes in ethnic identification, as many multiethnic/ multiracial persons who were reported as members of some other racial/ethnic category in 1970 were identified as American Indians in 1980 and 1990. The American Indian population grew from 827,000 in 1970 to 1.42 million in 1980. More than 62% of the increase in the American Indian population (350,000 persons) is attributable to changes in identification alone (Eschbach et al., 1998). The American Indian and Alaskan Native population in the 1990 census was 1.96 million with about 35% of the increase over the 1980 census figure of 190,000 persons added by identity changes (Passel, 1996).
Demographers distrust the census data because of these changes (Tienda & Jensen, 1988). They note a "dramatic convergence" in the socioeconomic standing of census-enumerated American Indians and Whites in recent decades. They caution against interpreting the change for the American Indian group as representing real improvement in economic status, because of the noncompar-ability of American Indian population across censuses, especially between 1970 and 1980. Featherman and Hauser (1978) and Hirschman (1983) argue that education is a key indicator of assimilation in American society, and educational gains are a prerequisite for any "real" convergence of health and SES.
It is important to note that the increases noted since 1970 in self-identification of many American Indians may have resulted from attitudinal changes toward American Indians by the U.S. population in general. Beginning in the 1960s, there was a shift from negative to sympathetic and romanticized views of Indians in popular culture. In the 1960s and 1970s, several American Indian organizations and Indian centers sprang up in cities across the country and sought to foster pride in American Indian heritage and identity. Stigma of Indian identity diminished during this period, particularly for fair-skined, urban, and educated metropolitan Indians. As the first inhabitants of the Americas, American Indians and Alaskan Natives deserve to be credited and respected for their heritage, ways of life, worldviews, wisdom, enormous sacrifices, and contributions to America. If the current trends in attitudes toward persons of American Indian heritage continues, further increases in self-identification are likely. This will likewise continue to impact the demographic characteristics of this population.
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