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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Americans: Who We Were, Who We Are, Who We Will Be: Part 1

Americans: Who We Were, Who We Are, Who We Will Be


This is the first in a series of blog posts concerning the make-up of America, largely based on Census data from 1999 - 2000 and 2009 - 2010.

Part 1: Who We Were as a Country in 2000 and How We Changed from 1990 - 2000


Thankfully we survived Y2K (remember that?), and the 2000 United States Census was completed.  Here is a quick summary of some of the more interesting information obtained via Census 2000 regarding our collective backgrounds, followed by a brief comment of mine on each issue. The question was posed this way on the Census 2000 form: "What is this person's ancestry or ethnic origin?"

Where do we come from/who do we "think" we are?


According to the responses we gave, we are from the following ethnic backgrounds, in order of most populous to least (top 10 only):

  1. German: 15.2%

  2. Irish: 10.8%

  3. African American: 8.8%

  4. English: 8.7%

  5. American: 7.2%

  6. Mexican: 6.5%

  7. Italian: 5.6%

  8. Polish: 3.2%

  9. French: 3.0%

  10. American Indian: 2.8%


A quick glance at the top 10 may cause you to realize that this "categorizing" exercise is somewhat arbitrary and inconsistent, or at least very subjective.  For example, if your parents were born in Nigeria, you'd be allowed to choose "African American" and/or "Nigerian"; if your parents were born in Mexico, you'd be allowed to choose "Hispanic" and/or "Latin American" and/or "Mexican"; if your parents were born in France, you'd be able to choose "European" or "Western European" or "French". It appears that most Americans of African descent are most likely to identify themselves under the general grouping of "African American" as opposed to specifying the particular African country of origin.  Of course, for some, such information is simply not available due to the circumstances of the ancestor's "delivery" to North America. By comparison, persons of Hispanic background were proportionately more likely to identify a specific country of ethnic origin (as opposed to the general category of "Hispanic" or "Latin American"), which is why "Hispanic" and "Latin American" did not appear in the top 10.

Which of these ethnic groups grew the most between 1990 and 2000, and which comparatively shrank?


The 10 categories with the most growth and the 5 with the largest relative decline are listed below (again, as identified by the group members themselves):

  1. Latin American +474.6%

  2. African: +381%

  3. European: +321.8%

  4. Brazilian: +174.9%

  5. Asian Indian: +171.7%

  6. European: +321.8%

  7. Western European: +195.5%

  8. Pakistani: +153.3%

  9. Northern European: +148%

  10. Albanian: +138.2



  • Slovak: -57.6%

  • Scandanavian: -37.4%

  • United States: -37.2

  • Croatian: -31.1%

  • German: -26.1%


So, this means that, for example, in 2000, 37.2% fewer persons in the USA who responded to the Census and provided "ancestry / ethnic origin" information described themselves as from the "United States" as compared to doing so in the 1990 Census. That 37.2% reflects an actual reduction of approximately 239,000 folks listing "United States".  Of course, it may very well be that many folks who listed "United States" in 1990 put "European" in 2000, "American" in 2000, "African American" in 2000, etc.  Also, the Census forms do change from time to time, so it's difficult to know as to what extent we are comparing apples to apples.