Wednesday, April 8, 2015

US Immigration Stats in History

2000 US Census Data on Self Reported Ancestry
I often see people trying to determine which European ethnicity most Americans are descended from. Some attempt to use self reported ancestry from census data to show the major European groups Americans today claim to descend from. The trouble with this is that self reported data is unreliable and most Americans are a mix of ancestries but only able to report one. Many actually reported 'American', which although technically may not be inaccurate (if you have ancestors born in the US, then you have American ancestry - the census did not ask what our non-American ancestry was), it's not helpful for these purposes. Probably because of these reasons, the US Census has since dropped this question and therefore the most recent data for ancestry is from 2000.

Others try to calculate which group most Americans today have roots in by using immigration numbers plus basic multiplication to determine their population growth. The trouble with this is that the multiplication is an estimate, and again, so many Americans today are a mixture of European ethnic groups. In the end, we can only say that it's impossible to determine with any real accuracy which single European ethnic group most Americans today are descended from. But the immigration stats are still helpful by showing us the largest European groups to legally settle in the US.

Over the course of history, from colonial times up to 1969, the largest groups to immigrate were the Germans totaling just over 7 million, followed by the British totaling over 5 million. The Italians came in a close third, also equally just over 5 million, with less than 100,000 fewer than the British numbers. Finally, we have the Irish amounting to slightly more than 4 and half million. Those from Austria-Hungary came in fifth at a little over 4 million, and then the Russians with just over 3 million. Finally, we have those from Norway-Sweden with barely over 2 million, and if you add in the Danes and Finnish to maximize the Scandinavian results, it still only equals about 2 and a half million. The spreadsheet (linked below) shows numbers for more groups in case it interests you but none of them exceed 1 million.

When estimating the amount of descends today from each of these groups, it's important to consider the time periods in which they immigrated. The longer an immigrant has been here, the more descendants they will likely have because they had more time to multiple. For example, the Italians may have had more immigrants than the Irish, but the largest period of Irish immigration occurred decades before the bulk of the Italians arrived so theoretically, it's possible the Irish have more descendants. Considering many Irish and Italians intermarried, it would not surprise me if they were about equal though.

With this in mind, if you look at the stats I compiled in this spreadsheet, you'll see that the Germans and British not only have the highest immigrant numbers in total, but also are the only groups to have been consistently immigrating in mass numbers since colonial times all the way up to 1969. I think it's safe to say that most Americans today have German and/or British ancestry. It would probably be impossible to determine which out of the two of them would rank higher, and many people probably also have some other groups mixed in there - personally I also have Italian and Norwegian, but not everyone else will. But it seems obvious from these stats that most Americans with European heritage have some German and/or British ancestry, even if they don't know it.

  1. Demographic History of the United States
  2. US Department of Homeland Security Yearbook 2008

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