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Race in the United States

Template:Culture of the United States

The United States has a racially and ethnically diverse population.[1] The census officially recognizes six ethnic and racial categories: White American, American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian, African American, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, and people of two or more races; a race called "Some other race" is also used in the census and other surveys, but is not official.[2][3][4] The United States Census Bureau also classifies Americans as "Hispanic or Latino" and "Not Hispanic or Latino", which identifies Hispanic and Latino Americans as a racially diverse ethnicity that composes the largest minority group in the nation.[2][3][5]

White Americans (non-Hispanic/Latino and Hispanic/Latino) are the racial majority, with a 72% share of the U.S. population, according to the 2010 US Census.[6] Hispanic and Latino Americans amount to 15% of the population, making up the largest minority.[5] African Americans are the largest racial minority, amounting to nearly 13% of the population.[4][6] The White, non-Hispanic or Latino population make up 63% of the nation's total.[5]

White Americans are the majority in every region,[4] but contribute the highest proportion of the population in the Midwestern United States, at 85% per the PEP,[4] or 83% per the ACS.[6] Non-Hispanic Whites make up 79% of the Midwest's population, the highest ratio of any region.[5] However, 35% of White Americans (whether all White Americans or non-Hispanic/Latino only) live in the South, the most of any region.[4][5]

55% of the African American population live in the South.[4] A plurality or majority of the other official groups reside in the West. This region is home to 42% of Hispanic and Latino Americans, 46% of Asian Americans, 48% of American Indians and Alaska Natives, 68% of Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders, 37% of the "two or more races" population (Multiracial Americans), and 46% of those designated "some other race".[4][7]

Racial and ethnic categories

In the 2000 Census and subsequent United States Census Bureau surveys, Americans self-described as belonging to these racial groups:[3]

Each person has two attributes, their race (or races) and whether or not they are Hispanic.[10] These categories are sociopolitical constructs and should not be interpreted as being scientific or anthropological in nature.[2] They change from one census to another, and the racial categories include both racial and national-origin groups.[11][12]

In 2007 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of the US Department of Labor finalized its update of the EEO-1 report format and guidelines to come into an effect on September 30, 2007. In particular, this update concerns the definitions of racial/ethnic categories.

Ethnicity: Hispanic or Latino origin

The question on Hispanic or Latino origin is separate from the question on race.[3][13] Hispanic and Latino Americans have origins in the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America and Spain. Most of the Latin American countries are, like the United States, quite racially diverse.[14] Consequently, no separate racial category exists for Hispanic and Latino Americans, as they do not make up a race of their own; when responding to the race question on the census form they choose from among the same racial categories as all Americans, and are included in the numbers reported for those races.[15]

Thus each racial category contains Non-Hispanic or Latino and Hispanic or Latino Americans. For example: the White race category contains Non-Hispanic Whites and Hispanic Whites (see White Hispanic and Latino Americans); the Black or African American category contains Non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanic Blacks (see Black Hispanic and Latino Americans); the Asian American category contains Non-Hispanic Asians and Hispanic Asians (see Asian Hispanic and Latino Americans); and likewise for all the other categories. See the section on Hispanic and Latino Americans in this article.

Self-identifying as Hispanic or Latino and not Hispanic or Latino is neither explicitly allowed nor explicitly prohibited.[2]

Social definitions of race

In the United States since its early history, Native Americans, African-Americans and European-Americans were considered to belong to different races. For nearly three centuries, the criteria for membership in these groups were similar, comprising a person’s appearance, his social circle (how he lived) and his fraction of known non-White ancestry.

The differences between how Native American and Black identities are defined today (blood quantum versus one-drop) have been based on different historical circumstances. According to the anthropologist Gerald Sider, such racial designations were a means to concentrate power, wealth, privilege and land in the hands of Whites in a society of White hegemony and privilege (Sider 1996; see also Fields 1990). The differences had little to do with biology and more to do with the history of racism and specific forms of White supremacy (the social, geopolitical and economic agendas of dominant Whites vis-à-vis subordinate Blacks and Native Americans). They related especially to the different social places which Blacks and Amerindians occupied in White-dominated 19th-century America. Sider suggests that the blood quantum definition of Native American identity enabled mixed-race Whites to acquire Amerindian lands during the allotment process, while the one-drop rule of Black identity enabled Whites to preserve their agricultural labor force in the South. The contrast emerged because, as peoples transported far from their land and kinship ties on another continent, Black labor was relatively easy to control, and they became reduced to valuable commodities as agricultural laborers. In contrast, Amerindian labor was more difficult to control; moreover, Amerindians occupied large territories that became valuable as agricultural lands, especially with the invention of new technologies such as railroads; thus, the blood quantum definition enhanced White acquisition of Amerindian lands in a doctrine of Manifest Destiny that subjected them to marginalization and multiple episodic localized campaigns of extermination.

The political economy of race had different consequences for the descendants of aboriginal Americans and African slaves. The 19th-century blood quantum rule meant that it was relatively easier for a person of mixed Euro-Amerindian ancestry to be accepted as White. The offspring of only a few generations of intermarriage between Amerindians and Whites likely would not have been considered Amerindian at all (at least not in a legal sense). Amerindians could have treaty rights to land, but because an individual with only one Amerindian great-grandparent no longer was classified as Amerindian, they lost any legal claim to Amerindian land. According to Sider's theory, Whites were more easily able to acquire Amerindian lands. Socially, the same individual who could be denied legal standing in a tribe because he was "too White" to claim property rights, might still have enough visually identifiable Amerindian ancestry to be considered as a "half-breed" or breed, and stigmatized.

On the other hand, the 20th-century one-drop rule made it relatively difficult for anyone of known Black ancestry to be accepted as White. The child of an African-American sharecropper and a White person was considered Black by the local community. Significantly in terms of the economics of sharecropping, such a person also would likely become a sharecropper as well, thus adding to the landholder or employer's labor force.

In short, this theory suggests that in a 20th-century economy that benefited from sharecropping, it was useful to have as many Blacks as possible. Conversely, in a 19th-century nation bent on westward expansion, it was advantageous to diminish the numbers of those who could claim title to Amerindian lands by defining them out of existence.

Although some scholars of the Jim Crow period agree that the 20th-century notion of invisible Blackness shifted the color line in the direction of paleness, and "expanded" the labor force in response to Southern Blacks' Great Migration to the North, others (such as the historians Joel Williamson, C. Vann Woodward, George M. Fredrickson, and Stetson Kennedy) considered the one-drop rule a consequence of the need to define Whiteness as being pure, and justifying White-on-Black oppression. Over the centuries when Whites wielded power over both Blacks and Amerindians and believed in their inherent superiority over people of color, they created a social order of hypodescent, in which mixed-race children were assigned to the lower status groups. This also related to the 18th and 19th-century conditions of slavery. Generally, it was much more common for white men to take sexual advantage of black women slaves, rather than for white women to have relationships with ethnic African men, slave or free.

In the United States, social and legal conventions developed over time that forced individuals of mixed ancestry into simplified racial categories (Gossett 1997). An example is the "one-drop rule" implemented in some state laws that treated anyone with a single known African-American ancestor as black (Davis 2001). The decennial censuses conducted since 1790, after slavery was well established in the United States, created an incentive to define racial categories and fit people into those categories (Nobles 2000). In other countries in the Americas where mixing among groups was overtly more extensive, social categories have tended to be more numerous and fluid, with people moving into or out of categories on the basis of a combination of socioeconomic status, social class, ancestry, and appearance (Mörner 1967).

The term "Hispanic" as an ethnonym emerged in the 20th century with the rise of migration of laborers from Spanish-speaking countries of the western hemisphere to the United States; it includes people who may have been considered racially distinct (Black, White, Amerindian or other mixed groups) in their home countries. Today, the word "Latino" is often used as a synonym for "Hispanic". Even if such categories were earlier understood as racial categories, currently they have begun to represent ethno-linguistic categories (regardless of perceived race). Similarly, "Anglo" is now used to refer to non-Hispanic White Americans or non-Hispanic European Americans, most of whom speak the English language but are not necessarily of English descent.

Historical trends and influences

The United States is a racially diverse country. The growth of the Hispanic population through immigration and high birth rates is noted as a partial factor for the US’ population gains in the last quarter-century. The 2000 census also found Native Americans at their highest population, 4.5 million, since the U.S was founded in 1776.[3]

The immigrants to the New World came largely from widely separated regions of the Old World. In the Americas, the immigrant populations began to mix among themselves and with the indigenous inhabitants of the continent. In the United States, for example, most people who self-identify as African American have some European ancestors—in one analysis of genetic markers that have differing frequencies between continents, European ancestry ranged from an estimated 7% for a sample of Jamaicans to ~23% for a sample of African Americans from New Orleans (Parra et al. 1998).

Similarly, many people who identify as European American have some African or Native American ancestors, either through openly interracial marriages or through the gradual inclusion of people with mixed ancestry into the majority population. In a survey of college students who self-identified as white in a northeastern U.S. university, ~30% were estimated to have less than 90% European ancestry.[16]

In the United States since its early history, Native Americans, African Americans, and European Americans were classified as belonging to different races. For nearly three centuries, the criteria for membership in these groups were similar, comprising a person’s appearance, his fraction of known non-European ancestry, and his social circle. The criteria for membership in these races diverged in the late 19th century. During and after Reconstruction, after the emancipation of slaves after the Civil War, in the effort to restore white supremacy in the South, conservative whites began to classify anyone with "one drop" of "black blood", or known African ancestry, to be black. Such a legal definition was not put into law until the 20th century in most southern states, but many established racial segregation of facilities during the Jim Crow era, after white Democrats regained control of state legislatures in the South.

In the early 20th century, this notion of "invisible" blackness was made statutory in southern states and many beyond the former Confederacy. Amerindians continued to be defined by a certain percentage of "Indian blood" (called blood quantum) due in large part to efforts at land allotments under the Dawes Act in the late 19th century. Given the financial implications, standards had to be developed to define a person's membership in a tribe or qualification as Native American. For the past century or so, to be white, one had to have "pure" European ancestry.

In the 20th century, efforts to sort the increasingly mixed population of the United States into discrete categories generated many difficulties (Spickard 1992). By the standards used in past censuses, many millions of mixed-race children born in the United States have been classified as of a different race than one of their biological parents. Efforts to track mixing between groups led to a proliferation of categories (such as "mulatto" and "octoroon") and "blood quantum" distinctions, which became increasingly untethered from self-reported ancestry. In addition, a person's racial identity can change over time, and self-ascribed race can differ from assigned race (Kressin et al. 2003).

Until the 2000 census, Latinos were required to identify with a single race, despite the long history of mixing in Latin America. Partly as a result of the confusion generated by the distinction, 32.9% (U.S. census records) of Latino respondents in the 2000 census ignored the specified racial categories and checked "some other race". (Mays et al. 2003 claim a figure of 42%)

Historical trends influencing the ethnic demographics of the United States include:

In some cases, immigrants and migrants form ethnic enclaves; in others, mixture creates ethnically diverse neighborhoods.

Racial makeup of the U.S. population

(For demographics by specific ethnic groups rather than general race, see "Ancestry" below.)

White Americans

The majority of the more than 300 million people currently living in the United States consists of White Americans, who trace their ancestry to the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.

White Americans are the majority in forty-nine of the fifty states, with Hawaii as the exception. The District of Columbia, which is not a state, also has a non-white majority.[17] Non-Hispanic Whites, however, are the majority in forty-six states, with Hawaii, New Mexico, California, and Texas, as well as the District of Columbia, as the exceptions.[18] These five have "minority majorities", i.e. minority groups are the majority populations.

The non-Hispanic White percentage (63% in 2012[5]) tends to decrease every year, and this sub-group is expected to become a plurality of the overall U.S. population after the year 2043. However, White Americans overall (non-Hispanic Whites together with White Hispanics) will remain the majority, at 73.1% (or 303 million out of 420 million) in 2050, from its current, official 80%.[19][20]

Even though a high proportion of the population has two or more ancestries, only slightly more than one ancestry was stated per person in Census 2000. This means that the percentages listed are significantly dependent on subjective perception of which of several ancestry lines is judged to be the most relevant by each respondent.

A large number of individuals (7.2% of the U.S. population) listed their ancestry as American on the 2000 census (see American ethnicity). According to the United States Census Bureau, the number of people in the U.S. who reported American and no other ancestry increased from 12.4 million in 1990 to 20.2 million in 2000. This increase represents the largest numerical growth of any ethnic group in the United States during the 1990s.

German Americans made up 17.1% of the U.S. population followed by Irish Americans at 12% as counted in the 2000 U.S. Census. This makes German the largest, and Irish the second-largest, self-reported ancestry groups in the U.S. The largest Central European ancestry (if Germany is considered a Western European, not Central European country) was Polish, counting both Catholic Poles and Polish Jews. The largest Eastern European ancestry was Russian, including a recent influx of Ashkenazi Jews. There were other significant ancestries from Central, Eastern and Southern Europe, especially Italy (see Italian American and Sicilian American), as well as from French Canada.

Most French Americans are descended from colonists of Catholic New France; exiled Huguenots quickly assimilated into the British population of the Thirteen Colonies and ended up seen and self-regarded as subjects of the Crown under the old English claims to the French throne. The descendants of Dutch and Hanoverian settlers, whose countries were non-simultaneously in personal union with the British monarchy, often identify with the successor countries today, namely Netherlands and Germany. This helps colonial diasporas fit in more with current nations. (See British American.)

Other white Americans are Iranian, Turkish, Armenian, Romanian, Dutch/Flemish, Lithuanian, Latvian, Austrian, Luxembourgian, former Yugoslav, Greek, Hungarian, Azerbaijani, Portuguese, Czech, Slovak, Albanian, Australian, and New Zealander. In addition to direct Spanish ancestry, including the Isleños of Louisiana and the Hispanos of the Southwest, most White Hispanics are of immediate Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban origins.[21]

According to the 2008 ACS, there are 1,573,530 Arab Americans, accounting for 0.5% of the American population.[22] The largest subgroup is by far the Lebanese Americans, with 501,907,[22] nearly a third of the Arab American population. Over 1/4 of all Arab Americans claimed two ancestries, having not only Arab ancestry but also non-Arab. Assyrians were also listed in the US census under Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac.[22]

Romanian Americans: For the 2000 US Census, 367,310 Americans indicated Romanian as their first ancestry,[23] while 462,526 persons declared to have Romanian ancestry.[24] Other sources provide higher estimates for the numbers of Romanian Americans in the contemporary US; for example, the Romanian-American Network, Inc. supplies a rough estimate of 1.2 million.[25]

African Americans

About 12.4% of the American people (37.6 million, including about 885,000 Hispanic or Latino) are Black or African American.[6] Also known more simply as Black Americans, the Black or African American group is the largest racial minority, as opposed to Hispanics and Latinos, who are the largest ethnic minority. Historically, any person with any sub-Saharan African ancestry, even if they were mostly white, were designated and classified as "Black", according to the "one drop rule". Today, racial categorization depends on self-ascription.[3] Three major subgroups come under the rubric of Black American.

African Americans form the largest subgroup, and are primarily descendants of Africans who were involuntarily transported to the U.S. from 1619 until the de jure end of the slave trade in 1808 or its de facto end in the 1830s-40s. Due to this history, the origins of most African Americans are usually untraceable to specific African nations; Africa serves as the general geographic origin.

Historically, most African Americans lived in the Southeastern and South Central states of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. After World War I there occurred the Great Migration of rural black Americans to the industrial Northeast, urban Midwest and, in a smaller wave, to the West Coast that lasted until 1960. However, since the 1980s, this migration from the South has reversed, with millions of African Americans, many well-educated, moving to growing metropolitan areas in that region. Today, most African Americans (56%) live in the Southern US;[6] they also live primarily in urban areas, but are increasingly moving to the suburbs.

Starting in the 1970s, the Black population has been bolstered by a growing West Indian American sub-group with origins in Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados, et al. This community was 2.5 million strong in 2008.[26]

More recently, starting in the 1990s, there has been an influx of Sub-Saharan African immigrants to the United States. They are outnumbered by their U.S-born descendants, and together they composed an estimated 2.9 million in 2008.[27]

Asian Americans

A third significant minority is the Asian American population, comprising 13.4 million in 2008, or 4.4% of the U.S. population.[6] California is home to 4.5 million Asian Americans, whereas 495,000 live in Hawaii, where they compose the plurality, at 38.5% of the islands' people. This is their largest share of any state.[28] Asian Americans live across the country, and are also found in large numbers in New York City, Chicago, Boston, Houston, and other urban centers.

They are by no means a uniform group. The largest sub-groups are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from the Philippines, China, Pakistan, India, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Thailand. While the Asian American population is generally a fairly recent addition to the nation's ethnic mix, relatively large waves of Chinese, Filipino and Japanese immigration happened in the mid-to-late 19th century.

Two or more races

Main article: Multiracial American

Multiracial Americans numbered 7.0 million in 2008, or 2.3% of the population.[6] They can be any combination of races (White, Black or African American, Asian, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, "Some other race") and ethnicities.[29] The U.S. has a growing multiracial identity movement. Miscegenation or interracial marriage, most notably between whites and blacks, was deemed immoral and illegal in most states until the 20th century. Demographers state that the American people were mostly multi-ethnic descendants of various immigrant nationalities culturally distinct until assimilation and integration took place in the mid-20th century.

According to James P. Allen and Eugene Turner from California State University, Northridge, by some calculations in the 2000 Census the actual multiracial population that is part white, by far the largest percentage of the multiracial population, is as follows: the largest part of the white bi-racial population, is white/Native American and Alaskan Native, at 7,015,017, followed by white/black at 737,492, then white/Asian at 727,197, and finally white/Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander at 125,628.[30]

Multiracial Americans and admixture


Admixture in European-American population (Schriver et al. 2003, sample size n=187)
 % European Admixture Frequency
90-100 68%
80-89.9 22%
70-79.9 8%
60-69.9 < 1%
50-59.9 < 1%
40-49.9 < 1%
0-39.9 0

In a survey of college students who self-identified as 'white' in a northeastern U.S. university, around 30% were estimated to have less than 90% European ancestry. Through DNA analysis, the study found an average of 0.7% African genetic admixture with a standard error of 0.9% and 3.2% Native American admixture with a standard error of 1.6%, in a sample of white Americans in State College, Pennsylvania. Most of the non-white admixture was concentrated in 30% of the sample, with African admixture ranging from 2-20% with an average of 2.3%.[16][31]

In 1958 Robert Stuckert produced a statistical analysis using historical census data and immigration statistics. He concluded that the growth in the White population could not be attributed to births in the White population and immigration from Europe alone, but also from a significant contribution from the American Black population as well. He concluded that at the time, 21 percent of white Americans had some recent African (or African-American) ancestors. He also concluded that the majority of Americans of African descent were partly white and not entirely black.[32]

More recently, many different DNA studies have shown that many African Americans have European admixture in their ancestry. Proportions of European admixture in African-American DNA have been found in studies to be 17%[33] and between 10.6% and 22.5%.[34] Another recent study found the average to be 21.2%, with a standard error of 1.2%.[16]

The Race, Ethnicity, and Genetics Working Group of the National Human Genome Research Institute notes that "although genetic analyses of large numbers of loci can produce estimates of the percentage of a person’s ancestors coming from various continental populations, these estimates may assume a false distinctiveness of the parental populations, since human groups have exchanged mates from local to continental scales throughout history."[31]

Native Americans and Alaska Natives

Indigenous peoples of the Americas, particularly Native Americans, made up 0.8% of the population in 2008, numbering 2.4 million.[6] An additional 2.3 million declared part-American Indian or Alaska Native ancestry.[35] The legal and official designation of who is Native American by descent has aroused controversy by demographers, tribal nations, and government officials for many decades. Blood quantum laws are complex, and tribal enrollment can require residency, lineal descent, and other criteria. Census takers accept any respondent's claims without official documents from the US Bureau of Indian Affairs or federally recognized or state-recognized tribes. Genetic scientists estimated that over 15 million other Americans may be one quarter or less of American Indian descent.

Once thought to face extinction in race or culture, there has been a remarkable revival of Native American identity and tribal sovereignty in the 20th century. Over 800,000 to one million persons claim Cherokee descent in part or full-blood degrees: an estimated 300,000 live in California, 70,000—160,000 in Oklahoma, and 15,000 in North Carolina in their ancestral homelands.

The second largest tribal group is the Navajo, who call themselves Diné and live on a 16-million acre (65,000 km²) Indian reservation covering northeast Arizona, northwest New Mexico, and southeast Utah. It is home to half of the 450,000 Navajo Nation members. And the third largest group are the Lakota (Sioux) Nation located in the states of Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming; and North and South Dakota.

Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders

Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders numbered 427,810 in 2008, or 0.1% of the population.[6] Additionally, nearly as many report partial Native Hawaiian ancestry, for a total of 829,949 people of full or part Native Hawaiian ancestry.[36] This group constitutes the smallest minority race in the United States. Although the numbers show that just more than half are "full-blooded", most Native Hawaiians on the island chain of Hawaii are said to be highly mixed with Asian, European and other ancestries.

Only 1 out of 50 Native Hawaiians can be legally defined as "full blood" and some demographers believe that by the year 2025, the last full-blooded Native Hawaiian will die off, leaving a culturally distinct, but racially-mixed population. However, there is more individual self-designation of Native Hawaiian than before the US annexed the islands in 1898. Native Hawaiians are receiving ancestral land reparations. Throughout Hawaii, the preservation and universal adaptation of Native Hawaiian customs, Hawaiian language, cultural schools solely for legally Native Hawaiian students, and historical awareness has gained momentum for Native Hawaiians.

Some other race

Main article: Multiracial Americans

In the 2000 census, this non-standard category[3] was especially intended to capture responses such as Mestizo and Mulatto,[8] two large multiracial groups in most of the countries of origin of Hispanic and Latino Americans. However, many other responses are captured by the category.

In 2008 15.0 million people, nearly 5% of the total U.S. population, were estimated to be "Some other race",[6] with 95% of them being Hispanic or Latino.[7]

Due to this category's non-standard status, statistics from government agencies other than the Census Bureau (for example: the Centers for Disease Control's data on vital statistics, or the FBI's crime statistics), but also the Bureau's own official Population Estimates, omit the "Some other race" category and include most of the people in this group in the white population, thus including the vast majority (about 90%) of Hispanic and Latino Americans in the white population. For an example of this, see The World Factbook, published by the Central Intelligence Agency.[37]

Hispanic and Latino Americans

Hispanic and Latino Americans by race (2010)[38]
Race Population % of all Hispanic
and Latino Americans
White 26,735,713 53.0
Some other race
(mestizo, mulatto, etc.)
18,503,103 36.7
Two or more races 3,042,592 6.0
Black 1,243,471 2.5
American Indian and Alaska Native 685,150 1.4
Asian 209,128 0.4
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander 58,437 0.1
Total 50,477,594 100.0

"Hispanic or Latino origin" is a self-designation made by 47 million Americans, as of 2008. They have origins in the Spanish-speaking nations of Latin America, chiefly, whereas a small percentage trace their origins to Spain. However, there are tens of thousands from other places, as well: 0.2% of Hispanic and Latino Americans were born in Asia, for example.[39] Like their countries of origin, the group is heterogeneous in various ways, including race and ancestry.

The Census Bureau defines "Hispanic or Latino origin" thus: Template:Cquote

Because this group is not (nor has it ever been) a race, the largest racial minority in the United States are Black Americans, at 13% of the population. The leading country-of-origin for Hispanic Americans is Mexico (30.7 million), followed by Puerto Rico (4.2 million) and Cuba (1.6 million), as of 2008.[40]

The racial composition of Hispanic and Latino Americans is dominated by people who self-identify as white, since they account for 62.4% of the group in the ACS.[7] The second position is occupied by the Hispanics and Latinos of "Some other race", who make up 30.5%. Officially (i.e. per the PEP) the majority is much higher: 91.9% white, there being no "Some other race" in the official estimates.[5] In the official estimates, Black or African American Hispanics are the second-largest group, with 1.9 million, or 4.0% of the whole group. The remaining Hispanics are accounted as follows, first per the PEP: 1.6% American Indian and Alaska Native, 1.5% Two or more races, 0.7% Asian, and 0.03% Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander. Per the ACS: 3.9% Two or more races, 1.9% Black or African American, 1.0% American Indian and Alaska Native, 0.4% Asian, and 0.05% Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander.[7]

The Hispanic or Latino population is young and fast-growing, due to immigration and higher birth rates.[39] For decades it has contributed significantly to U.S. population increases, and this is expected to continue for decades. The Census Bureau projects that by 2050 one-quarter of the population will be Hispanic or Latino.[19][41]


The ancestry of the people of the United States is widely varied and includes descendants of populations from around the world. In addition to its variation, the ancestry of people of the United States is also marked by varying amounts of intermarriage between ethnic and racial groups.

While some Americans can trace their ancestry back to a single ethnic group or population in Europe, Africa, or Asia, these are often first- and second-generation Americans. Generally, the degree of mixed heritage increases the longer one's ancestors have lived in the United States (see melting pot). In theory, there are several means available to discover the ancestry of the people residing in the United States, including genealogy, genetics, oral and written history, and analysis of Federal Population Census schedules. In practice, only few of these have been used for a larger part of the population.

Analysis by 2000 Federal Population Census

The majority of the 300 million people currently living in the United States are descended from European immigrants who have arrived in the past 400 years. Most Latin American immigrants are from Mexico and Central America of which about half are descended from indigenous peoples of those regions and Spaniards (mestizo). African American people, most of whom are descended from Africa and the slavery era, form the next-largest ethnic groups. American Indians now form a small minority in the population.

Major components of the European segment of the United States population are descended from immigrants from Germany (15.2%), Ireland (10.8%), England (7.7%), Italy (5.6%), Scandinavia (3.7%) and Poland (3.2%) with many immigrants also coming from other Slavic countries. Other significant European immigrant populations came from eastern and southern Europe and French Canada; few immigrants came directly from France. Since French, French-Canadian and Acadian ancestries are overlapping, the number of counties with "French" as the main ancestry would also be larger if these three labels are added together.

A large number of Americans are descended from Africans (12.9%), the majority of whom were brought as slaves as early as the 17th century throughout the 19th century during the Transatlantic slave trade, with smaller numbers having immigrated since then from Africa or the Caribbean. The ancestral national origin of most African Americans has been difficult to trace until recent DNA analyses. Most African nations were named centuries after slaves were imported the Americas, and most slave owners generally did not keep track of the slaves' ethnicity. Therefore the continent of Africa serves as an indicator of geographic origin and a descriptive term. African-Americans who know their ethnic origin are generally from post-slave trade era migration such as Barack Obama, who is of Luo Kenyan descent and Hakeem Olajuwon who is Yoruba Nigerian ancestry.

U.S. Census Bureau statistics depend entirely on self-reported ancestry.[42] An analysis of census forms in 1980 and 1990 suggests that self-reported ancestry was influenced by the order of choices listed on the form. In 1980, 'English' was near the top of the list and was chosen by 49.6 million people; in 1990 it was less prominent and was chosen by only 32.7m respondents. 'German' and 'Italian' were higher on the list in 1990 than in 1980, and the number choosing them increased by 20 per cent.[43]

Many citizens listed themselves as "American" on the census (7.2%). They are generally assumed to be of predominantly English stock though some are likely to be people of several other different European ethnicities who are unable or unwilling to choose one. Many people who trace their ancestry to the colonial period or the early days of the Republic consider themselves to be of "American" ancestry. It is estimated that 53 percent of White Americans are the descendants of colonial ancestors. In the late 18th century, 85 percent of White Americans were of British Isles ancestry, 9 percent were German, and 3 or 4 percent were of Dutch origin.[43]

The census is based upon questionnaires and have been compiled from answers given by a sample group. Therefore the answers given will reflect what the individual knows about their ancestry. Many U.S. citizens do not know their ancestry entirely; partly for that reason, a large proportion simply call themselves "American" ancestry (not including American Indians) or know that a part of their ancestry is Irish or at least has an Irish name and will therefore say 'Irish' as their ancestry, when in fact most of their ancestry is English.

An analysis of Census information and immigration records would suggest that 62 percent of White Americans today are of British Isles descent, and a total of 86 percent are of Northwestern European origins. Approximately 14 percent of U.S. whites are of southern and eastern European ancestry.[43]

The only way to get a true picture of what the U.S. ancestry is would be to do several hundred thousand genetic background analyses, which at the moment would be particularly expensive. Based upon last names however, the top 100 last names in the U.S are mostly of British or Irish background — the top 5 being Smith, Johnson, Williams, Jones and Brown. Most African Americans have English or Irish surnames, which were assigned to their ancestors during slavery, or adopted by them as freedmen, or else inherited through union between people of African and European ancestries.

Some common German last names, for example Braun, Schmidt and Müller, have been anglicized into Brown, Smith and Miller. The common Swedish last name Johansson, as well as the Norwegian/Danish names Johansen and Jensen, have also often been anglicized into Johnson. To add further weight, a World War II ethnic background of the U.S. put the top four backgrounds as 36 million British (English, Scottish, Welsh, Cornish), 32 million German, 29 million Irish, 17 million Italian and 10 million Polish.

Of these four ethnic backgrounds, none committed any significant (and certainly not significant enough) immigration to the US to make up the difference, as a percentage, between the 2000 census and wartime statistics. These are obviously somewhat different from the latest census data. Which is more accurate, for the time in question, is in some debate. Some of the people currently from the countries which Americans descend from may not regard some Americans as anything but "Americans".

It should also be noted that persons of Jewish ancestry are not counted as such in the United States Census, instead being recorded as "Polish", "Russian", and so forth. This may be due to a lack of consistency in how criteria of ethnicity are applied. A person who identifies with Arab ancestry may also have the choice of identifying as of Lebanese ancestry. A person of Jewish ancestry whose family came from the Tsarist pale of Jewish settlement may not have his Jewish ancestry recorded in the U.S. Census. One reason may be that "Jewish" may be taken to suggest religious beliefs, which have never been officially recorded in the United States Census.

Fifteen largest ancestries in the United States (2000 Census):[44]

Rank Ancestry Number Percent of total
1 German 42,841,569 15.2%
2 Irish 30,524,799 10.8%
3 African 24,903,412 8.8%
4 English 24,509,692 8.7%
5 American 20,188,305 7.2%
6 Mexican 18,382,291 6.5%
7 Italian 15,638,348 5.6%
8 Polish 8,977,235 3.2%
9 French 8,309,666 3.0%
10 American Indian 7,876,568 2.8%
11 Scottish 4,890,581 1.7%
12 Dutch 4,541,770 1.6%
13 Norwegian 4,477,725 1.6%
14 Scotch-Irish 4,319,232 1.5%
15 Chinese 4,010,114 1.4%
  • And we also should notice that most academic reports show that there are approximately and at least 5,828,000 Americans declare their ancestry have strong Jewish origin in 1992.[45][46]

Ancestry maps

Major ancestries

These images display frequencies of self-reported ancestries, as of the 2000 U.S. Census. Regional African ancestries are not listed, though an African American map has been added from another source.

European American ancestries

These images display frequencies of self-reported European American ancestries as of the 2000 U.S. Census.

See also




  • United States Census Bureau

External links

  • For additional county-level U.S. maps on a wide range of ethnic and nationality groups, visit the Valparaiso University.




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