From World War II through the 1970s, the population of Florida, Palm Beach County, and each of its communities changed dramatically, not only in the number of residents, but also in their age, birthplace, and race. While Palm Beach County reflected the state in 1940, it developed a different demographic identity over the decades.
Population 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980
Florida 1,897,414 2,771,305 4,951,560 6,791,418 9,746,324
Palm Beach County 79,989 114,688 228,106 348,753 576,863
Servicemen and women who had served in Florida during World War II returned to the Sunshine State to live out their retirement years, and others followed. The percentage of residents aged 65 and over, rose from 7% before the war for all of Florida and for Palm Beach County. By 1980, it reached 17% statewide and 23% in Palm Beach County.
In 1940, 4% of Florida residents were born in foreign countries; of these, 65% were from European nations, and 13.5% from Canada. By 1980, 11% of residents were born in foreign countries, led by Cuba (35% of total) and European nations (25%). In Palm Beach County in 1940, 7% of residents were born in foreign countries, nearly double that of the state’s ratio. By 1980, the county was close to the state; 10% of residents were born in foreign countries, with the greatest number from European nations (42% of total), Mexico (20%), and Cuba (14%). Residents of Spanish ancestry, of any race, comprised 9% of both Palm Beach County’s and Florida’s populations in 1980; in the county, 37% were Cuban, 26% Mexican, and 17% Puerto Rican.
By 1980, 31% of the state’s residents were born in Florida; 57% were born in other parts of the U.S. Of the latter, 38% were from the Northeast, 33% from the South, 26% from the Midwest, and 3% from the West. In Palm Beach County, Florida natives represented 23% of residents in 1980. Of the 67% born in other states, half were from the Northeast, 23% each were from the North Central U.S. and the South, 2% were from the West, and 2% were U.S. citizens born outside the U.S.
The population of Palm Beach County became increasingly diverse ethnically and racially during the extreme growth of the Urban Expansion era, due in part to the increase in residents born in other states and countries discussed above. In addition to white and black residents of various ancestries, in 1940 the U.S. Census Bureau reported 29 residents of “Other Races” (American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, Asian, and Pacific Islander). By 1980 this number grew to almost 10,000 residents, with Asians accounting for the largest group.
Statewide, from 1920 to 1950, the black population had grown by about 100,000 residents per decade. Although, like all segments of the population, black residents increased in numbers during Urban Expansion, their percentage of the total Florida population dropped gradually from 27% in 1940 to 14% by 1980. Palm Beach County experienced a similar decrease, from 36% African Americans in 1940, to 14% in 1980; meanwhile, other racial groups represented a larger part of the county’s inhabitants.
Palm Beach County 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980
Total population 79,989 114,688 228,106 348,753 576,863
White 64% 70% 77% 82% 85%
Black 36% 30% 23% 18% 14%
Other Races --- --- --- --- 2%