Sunday, November 16, 2008

Where have all the English Americans gone? Nowhere....   posted by Razib @ 11/16/2008 12:22:00 AM

One of the "fun facts" of American demographics is that the largest ancestry group consists not of Anglo-Saxon stock, but of Germans. So Wikipedia says, "They currently form the largest self-reported ancestry group in the United States, accounting for 49 million people, or 17% of the U.S. population." Considering that Germans were a numerous, if not dominant, group numerically as far back as the 18th century (majorities across large portions of southeast Pennsylvania), and then the significant 19th century migration this isn't totally implausible. On the other hand in the 2000 Census 8.7% of Americans claimed English ancestry. Many people find this very implausible, that is, far too low a figure. You can inspect the Census data and see what's going on, but I figured I'd bring some of the information in one post so that Wikipedia entries will no longer have a "citation needed" note when people make the claim for the low numbers of English Americans being an artifact.


And with proportions....

The proportions above use the white population in the Census as the baseline.

It seems pretty clear here: the "American" group is sucking up many people of British Isles origin. Additionally, I haven't posted it, but there are weird changes in people claiming single or multiple ancestries. This is probably a result of the way in which the question was worded and results tabulated, the balance between single and multiple ancestries shifted a lot among many groups in favor of the former. This obviously doesn't make sense, these are European groups who aren't subject to a great deal of immigration, and have been intermarrying more & more each generation.

Next there is some interesting data from page 38 Ethnic Options:
Consistency between 1972 & 1971
Puerto Rican 96.5
Negro 94.2
Mexican 88.3
Italian 87.8
Cuban 83.3
Polish 79.2
Spanish 78.9
German 66.1
Others 62.5
Russian 62.3
French 62.1
Irish 57.1
English, Scottish, Welsh 44.1
Don't know 34.9

As you can see, British Isles groups tend to be very inconsistent year-by-year in their ethnic affinity. I believe this suggests very weak distinctive self-identification. In part this is probably due to the fact that the immigrant experience is so far back for people whose forebears arrived in North America in the 1600s and 1700s, but, I also believe that it is due to the fact that Anglo-Saxon culture is to some extant the default culture of the United States. The fact that Anglo-Saxon identity is so malleable and shallow in explicit (if not implicit background) terms also suggests one hypothesis for the relatively robusticity of a group like German Americans vs. English Americans over the past 30 years: German ancestry is more memorable, distinctive and "ethnic" than English ancestry. So if someone is 1/4 German and 3/4 "American," one might naturally give "German" as the response when queried about ethnicity because the "American" element is not coded as ethnicity at all. Checking through the Census data it also seems that "American" is tabulated only if no other ethnic groups are given by respondent. This suggests to me that there are many of the people bracketed into German, Irish, etc., probably listed "American" as one of their ethnicities, which itself is probably a proxy for Anglo-Saxon background.

Relying on self-reports is obviously problematic for ethnicity in a nation where a large majority are likely compounds. How can we get a real sense of the distribution of American European ethnicities? Here's an idea: a social scientist could simply go back several generations in the genealogy of 10,000 random white Americans in the family Family Search database. Individual could be more appropriately coded ethnically.