Race and ethnicity in the United States
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Main article: Demographics of the United States
The United States is a diverse country, racially and ethnically. Six races are recognized: White, American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian, Black or 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. Americans are also classified 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.
White Americans (non-Hispanic/Latino and Hispanic/Latino) are the racial majority, with an 80% share of the U.S. population, per official estimates from the Population Estimates Program (PEP), or 75% per the American Community Survey (ACS). Hispanic and Latino Americans compose 15% of the population. Black Americans are the largest racial minority, composing nearly 13% of the population. The White, not-Hispanic or Latino population comprises 66% of the nation's total.
White Americans are the majority in every region, and reach their highest share of the population in the Midwestern United States: 85% per the PEP, or 83% per the ACS. Non-Hispanic Whites make up 79% of the Midwest's population, the highest ratio of any region. However, 35% of White Americans (whether all White Americans or non-Hispanic/Latino only) live in the South, the most of any region.
The South is also where Blacks and African Americans are most prevalent, as it is home to 55% of the community. A plurality or majority of each of the remaining groups resides in the West: The 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 people of "Some other race".
Racial and ethnic categories
U.S. real median household income by race and ethnicity from 1967 to 2008, with the intra-group differences illustrated
Main articles: Race in the United States and Race and ethnicity in the United States Census
In the 2000 Census and subsequent United States Census Bureau surveys, Americans self-described as belonging to these racial groups:
- White: those having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.
- Black or African American: those having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.
- American Indian or Alaska Native, also called Native Americans: those having origins in any of the original peoples of North, Central and South America, and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment.
- Asian, also called Asian American: those having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent; frequently specified as Chinese American, Korean American, Indian American, Filipino American, Vietnamese American, Japanese American, etc.
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: those having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands; see also Pacific Islander American.
- Some other race: respondents write in the race they consider themselves to be, if different from the foregoing categories. This category captures responses such as Mestizo, Creole, and Mulatto, but among the write-in entries reported in the 2000 census were also South African, Moroccan, Belizean, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and Wesort, mixed, interracial, and others. This is not a standard OMB race category.
- Two or more races, widely known as Multiracial: those who check off and/or write in more than one race. There is no actual option labelled "Two or more races" or "Multiracial" on census and other forms; only the foregoing six races appear, and people who report more than one of them are categorized as people of "Two or more races" in subsequent processing. Any number, up to all six, of the racial categories can be reported by any respondent.
Ethnicity: Hispanic and Latino Americans
The question on Hispanic or Latino origin is separate from the question on race. 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. 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.
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); 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.
Historical trends and influences
Historical trends influencing the ethnic demographics of the United States include:
- Patterns of original settlement
- Original settlement of the Americas by a variety of Native American peoples, including Alaska Natives.
- Original settlement of Pacific islands by Polynesian people, including Native Hawaiians, Samoans, the Chamorro people in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
- Original settlement of Puerto Rico by the Taíno people.
- Original settlement of the United States Virgin Islands by the Ciboney, Carib, and Arawaks.
- Colonization of the Thirteen Colonies as part of British America.
- Spanish colonization of the Americas, influencing the later acquisitions of Florida, the Southwest, and Puerto Rico.
- Colonization of what is now eastern Canada and the area between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River as New France. Historical events, including the Expulsion of the Acadians influenced the ethnic mix especially in Louisiana and northern New England and New York State.
- The Netherlands and other historical colonial powers influenced the ethnic makeup of what are now the United States Virgin Islands.
- Spanish, German, and Japanese occupation of the Northern Mariana Islands
- The Atlantic slave trade, bringing many Africans to the South and Caribbean.
- Severe reduction of Native American populations in the contiguous United States by disease brought by European colonists combined with armed conflict with Europeans
- Forced migration
- Deportation and flight of United Empire Loyalists after the American Revolution
- Territorial conflict with Native Americans and the Indian removal policy of the 1800s displaced many remaining native populations.
- Historical immigration to the United States from all countries of the world and throughout the history of the country, usually for economic or political reasons. The History of laws concerning immigration and naturalization in the United States and illegal immigration to the United States have influenced the ethnic balance of that immigration. Various groups have been denied entry due to discrimination, economic protectionism, and political conflict with their nation of origin. Other groups have received favored status, such as refugees and nationals of allied nations.
- Transatlantic migrations from Europe, especially in the 1800s, created ethnic enclaves in many Eastern cities and settling many rural areas east of the Mississippi
- Immigration from Asia has had the most influence on the West Coast, but has also created dominantly Asian neighborhoods in many major cities.
- Immigration from Mexico has strongly influenced the Southwest.
- Westward expansion of the United States
- The Royal Proclamation of 1763 restricted the western boundary of European settlement to the watershed east of the Appalachian Mountains; despite the Confederation Congress Proclamation of 1783 and Nonintercourse Acts prohibiting private purchase of Native American lands, the territory between the Mississippi River and Appalachian Mountains granted to the United States by the Treaty of Paris (1783) was gradually opened to white settlers through public purchase of Indian lands.
- The Homestead Act promoting settlement west of the Mississippi after the Louisiana Purchase
- Mormon settlement of Utah
- California Gold Rush
- Oregon Trail
- Klondike Gold Rush promoting settlement of Alaska
- Internal migration
- Especially as transportation systems have improved over the centuries, it has become relatively easy for many Americans to move from one part of the country to another, given the lack of internal borders and dominance of English in most areas. Many do so for reasons of economic opportunity, climate, or culture.
- The Underground Railroad brought African-Americans from enslavement in the South to the free North before the American Civil War.
- After the abolition of slavery, the Great Migration and Second Great Migration, brought African-Americans to Northern and Western cities from the South.
- "White flight" during the suburbanization period after World War II, followed by "black flight"
- The American Industrial Revolution, promoted urbanization of what was previously a largely agrarian society
- Economic events have driven migration, for example during the Dust Bowl, World War II, the decline of the Rust Belt
- Railroads, promoting western migration and streetcar suburbs that created significant ethnic shifts in urban areas.
- The majority of Native Hawaiians who moved to the mainland U.S. have settled in California.
- The advent of air conditioning has promoted migration to the Sun Belt, especially after the opening of the Jet Age which promoted vacationing and part-time living in warmer areas (snowbirding).
In some cases, immigrants and migrants form ethnic enclaves; in others, mixture creates ethnically diverse neighborhoods.
Racial makeup of the U.S. population
Most common ancestries in each U.S. county, according to the 2000 U.S. Census
Most common ancestries in each U.S. state, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. German
Top ancestries in 2000
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. 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. These five have "minority majorities", i.e. minority groups are the majority populations.
The non-Hispanic White percentage (66 in 2008) tends to decrease every year, and this sub-group is expected to become a plurality of the overall U.S. population after the year 2050. 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%.
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, 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 ethnic European origins included are Romanian, Dutch/Flemish, Lithuanian, Latvian, Luxembourgish, former Yugoslavs, Greek, Hungarian, Portuguese, Czech, Slovak, 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.
According to the 2008 ACS, there are 1,573,530 Arab Americans, accounting for 0.5% of the American population. The largest subgroup is by far the Lebanese Americans, with 501,907, 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.
Romanian Americans: For the 2000 US Census, 367,310 Americans indicated Romanian as their first ancestry, while 462,526 persons declared to have Romanian ancestry. 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.
Black or African American
About 12.4% of the American people (37.6 million, including about 885,000 Hispanic or Latino) are Black or African American. 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. Three major subgroups come under the rubric of Black American.
African Americans form the largest subgroup, and are primarily descendants of Africans who were enslaved in the U.S. between 1619 and the 1860s and were emancipated during the American Civil War in the 1860s. Due to this history, the origins of most African Americans are usually untraceable to specific African nations; Africa serves as the general indicator of 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. Since 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 and 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.
More recently, starting in the 1990s, there has been an influx of Sub-Saharan African immigrants to the United States, due to the instability in political and economic opportunities in various nations in Africa. They are outnumbered by their U.S-born descendants, and together they composed an estimated 2.9 million in 2008.
A third significant minority is the Asian American population, comprising 13.4 million in 2008, or 4.4% of the U.S. population. 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. 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 monolithic group. The largest sub-groups are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from the Philippines, China, India, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, 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. 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. 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.
American Indians and Alaska Natives
Indigenous peoples of the Americas, such as American Indians and Inuit, made up 0.8% of the population in 2008, numbering 2.4 million. An additional 2.3 million declared part-American Indian or Alaska Native ancestry. The legal and official designation of who is Native American by descent aroused controversy by demographers, tribal nations and government officials for many decades. The blood quantum laws are complex and contradictory in admittance of new tribal members, or for census takers to accept any respondent's claims without official documents from the US Bureau of Indian Affairs. 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. The Cherokee are at 800,000 full or part-blood degrees. 70,000 Cherokee live in Oklahoma in the Cherokee Nation, and 15,000 in North Carolina on remnants of 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. 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 0.14% of the population. Additionally, nearly as many report partial Native Hawaiian ancestry, for a total of 829,949 people of full or part Native Hawaiian ancestry. 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 was especially intended to capture responses such as Mestizo and Mulatto, 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.
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.
In 2008 15.0 million people, nearly 5% of the total U.S. population, were estimated to be "Some other race", with 95% of them being Hispanic or Latino.
Due to this category's non-standard status, statistics from government agencies other than the Census Bureau (for example: the Center 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.
Hispanic and Latino Americans
Hispanic and Latino Americans by race (2009) Race Population % of all Hispanic
and Latino Americans White 30,447,153 63.0 Some other race
(Mestizo...) 14,271,630 29.5 Two or more races 2,032,341 4.2 Black 949,195 2.0 Asian and Native 656,441 1.3 Total 48,356,760 100.0 "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 are immigrants from Asia, for example. 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:
“ For Census 2000, American Community Survey: People who identify with the terms "Hispanic" or "Latino" are those who classify themselves in one of the specific Hispanic or Latino categories listed on the Census 2000 or ACS questionnaire - "Mexican," "Puerto Rican," or "Cuban" - as well as those who indicate that they are "other Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino." Origin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person's parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States. People who identify their origin as Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino may be of any race. ” Because this group is not (nor has it ever been) a race, the largest racial minority are Blacks and African 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.
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. 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. 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.
The Hispanic or Latino population is young and fast-growing, due to immigration and higher birth rates. It has for decades contributed in an important way to U.S. population gains, and this is expected to continue for decades more. The Census Bureau projects that by 2050 one-quarter of the population will be Hispanic or Latino.
Ancestry is a distinctive inquiry from race and Hispanic or Latino heritage and origin. The figures in this table may hence differ from those elsewhere.
See also: History of immigration to the United States
1790 U.S. Ancestry
Based on Evaluated census figures 2000 U.S. Ancestry Ancestry group Number
(1790 estimate) % of
total Ancestry group Number
(2000 count) % of
total English 1,900,000 47.5 German 42,885,162 15.2 African 750,000 19.0 African American 36,419,434 12.9 Scotch-Irish 320,000 8.0 Irish 30,594,130 10.9 German 280,000 7.0 English 24,515,138 8.7 Irish 200,000 5.0 Mexican 20,640,711 7.3 Scottish 160,000 4.0 Italian 15,723,555 5.6 Welsh 120,000 3.0 French 10,846,018 3.9 Dutch 100,000 2.5 Hispanic 10,017,244 3.6 French 80,000 2.0 Polish 8,977,444 3.2 Native American 50,000 1.0 Scottish 4,890,581 1.7 Spanish 20,000 0.5 Dutch 4,542,494 1.6 Swedish and other 20,000 0.5 Norwegian 4,477,725 1.6 Total 4,000,000 100 Native American 4,119,301 1.5
Swedish 3,998,310 1.4
Puerto Rican 3,406,178 1.2
Russian 2,652,214 0.9
Chinese 2,432,585 0.9
Total 281,421,906 82.1