The mosaic of North American populations

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A few months ago an interesting paper connected the historical demographics of New Hampshire with genetic variation. One of the notable features of North American history and culture is that it is a mosaic of different populations, and, that mosaic has come about in very different ways. For example, the millions of Italian and Jewish Americans descend from hundreds of thousands of Italian and Jewish immigrants. By contrast, millions of Yankees and Quebecois descend from tens of thousands of ancestors, who arrived in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1992 a Census demographer, Gibson Campbell, calculated that 49% of the population of the United States in 1990 was descended from those whose ancestors were resident withi nthe United States in in 1790 in “The Contribution of Immigration to the Growth and Ethnic Diversity of the American Population” (inclusive of blacks and whites). 51% were descended from those who arrived after 1790. Put it another way, 127 million Americans in 1990 were attributable to the net 50 million immigrants who arrived after 1790. The remainder of the population would be attributable to the 4 million U.S. residents in 1790.
Note: Looking at the immigration records more than 1 million Italians and Jews remained in the United States (around 4 million Italians arrived between 1820 and 1920, but the majority seem to have gone back to Italy). But reproductive variance being what it is, I think it is plausible to assuming that fewer than 1 million may contribute most to the current generations of these two groups.

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10 Comments

  1. The natural growth rate of the American population from the early colonial period until the Civil War was probably the highest rate of sustained population growth in the history of the world. Throughout this period, the U.S. population was doubling roughly every 25 years, with most of the growth being due to natural increase rather than to immigration. It was observing the growth rate of the Anglo-American population, in fact, that inspired Thomas Malthus to write his famous essay on population growth.

  2. immigration was low from the american revolution until after the napoleonic wars. among settler populations new england yankees in particular were notorious breeders.

  3. “in 1992 a Census demographer, Gibson Campbell, calculated that 49% of the population of the United States in 1990 was descended from those whose ancestors were resident withi nthe United States in in 1790 in “The Contribution of Immigration to the Growth and Ethnic Diversity of the American Population” (inclusive of blacks and whites). 51% were descended from those who arrived after 1790.” 
     
    I’m confused about how these groups are sorted. What about people who are descended from BOTH ppl who were here before 1790 and those after 1790, such as yours truly? I would think that we’re a pretty big percentage of the population.

  4. weighted by ancestry.

  5. How do you weight? I’m 37.5 pre- / 62.5 post- 1790. Does that put me in the 51% or the 49%? Do your numbers mean that 51% are at least 51% old-stock, or that 51% have at least one old-stock ancestor, or that 51% of the genes are old-stock.

  6. The natural growth rate of the American population from the early colonial period until the Civil War was probably the highest rate of sustained population growth in the history of the world.  
     
    I’ve always suspected that the differential birthrates during this period of exponential growth is a major factor behind a decline of Old Stock mental ability. It’s clear that the Founding Fathers were mostly men of remarkable talent, but that seems considerably less true for their typical co-ethnic descendants. 
     
    My impression is that if you look at e.g. the men behind the Declaration and the Constitution, you’ll find far smaller families than contemporaneous backwoodsmen out West who had 10 or 15 children. A few generations of this pattern can make a huge difference, even before the era of modern birth control.

  7. It’s clear that the Founding Fathers were mostly men of remarkable talent… 
     
    They were also a self-selected elite, not a random demographic sample.

  8. It’s clear that the Founding Fathers were mostly men of remarkable talent… 
     
    They were also a self-selected elite, not a random demographic sample.
     
     
    Yes, that’s certainly true, but consider just how small the total population of their society was at that point. The total number of the Founders and their educational/social peers really wasn’t a totally negligible fraction of American society. Yet today, I’d suspect you’d never find that level of ability in a similar relative fraction of Old Stock Americans. 
     
    It’s a little like Classical Athens. I don’t doubt that America’s brightest are today much, much brighter and more creative than Pericles and Socrates, but our population base is also 1000x larger…

  9. The Founding Fathers were also in a rare place where something actually could be done. In other circumstances they might have been equally talented, but without a place to use their talents, much more commonplace. There are a lot of brilliant, successful men who accomplished nothing permanent but were just locally famous or important in the business world of their time. 
     
    When we talk about the Founding Fathers, we’re also usually only talking about 20-40 guys. Were Button Gwinnet, William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, Arthur Middleton, and Thomas Heyward Jr. brilliant?

  10. The de Tocque-ster says the early yanks elected great men because of the nation’s duress. Once in less peril, their anti-elitist jealousy led them to elect “a dude they could have a beer with.”

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