Mapping the Melting Pot

2010 Census Logo for MinnesotaSee, this is why you spend all those hours teaching college students: so that one day they’ll be your Facebook friend and point you in the direction of a tool as interesting as this interactive map from Bloomberg. For each of United States’ 3100+ counties, it lets you see how heavy or light is the concentration of each of the twenty “national heritages” most often reported on the American Community Survey of the 2010 U.S. Census.

Thanks to Tim Krueger, one of my former teaching assistants at Bethel, I spent at least an hour of spring break time failing to work on an article manuscript or grading midterms and instead played around with this heritage map. (I realize this runs counter to my Monday hissy fit about how hard we professors work, but too late…)

Now, this tool has some obvious limitations. #1: as commenter after commenter complained, no African national heritages cracked the top 20 and so weren’t indicated on the map. Indeed, only six of the twenty were not European in origin: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and “other Hispanic.” Of course, that should remind us again — as Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has discussed and attempted to remedy with his PBS series on African-American genealogy — that slavery deprived almost all of its victims of a source of identity that Euro-Americans take for granted. (Native American commenters had similar, and similarly understandable, complaints.)

But for this particular map’s important flaws, the data from the American Community Survey are still interesting (you can play with the data yourself at the ACS website), and the map tool makes them quite accessible to fascinated amateurs like myself. I’d encourage you to check it out yourself, but here were a few things that caught my eye, as someone who’s Swedish on my mom’s side and German and English on my dad’s:

Swedish-Americans live exactly where you’d expect

As one of the 44,159 residents of Ramsey County, Minnesota who self-identified in this way, it was absolutely no surprise to find that the entire Twin Cities metro area had relatively high concentrations of Swedish-Americans. Other hot spots: Chicago; southern California and the Bay Area; the Pacific Northwest; Connecticut and Massachusetts; northern Colorado; western New York; and southern Florida and southern Arizona (Swedes retire to lots of the same places as everyone else).

Not coincidentally, most of those places are traditional centers of my denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church. Multi-ethnic as it’s become, the ECC hasn’t entirely shed its origins as a Scandinavian immigrant church. Compare the Bloomberg map for Swedish ancestry to the distribution of ECC adherents reported by the Association of Religion Data Archives. Minnesota not only has a lot of Swedes, it has the highest proportion of Covenanters: 4.58 per 1000 residents.

But Swedes are not the largest Scandinavian group

Beck, one of the nation's most notable Norwegian-Americans (according to the Wikipedia entry on the subject) - Creative Commons (m anima)

That would be our Norwegian cousins, but it’s disguised by the fact that the 4.4 million Norwegian-Americans clustered together a bit more than the 4.1 million Swedes. One of the cool features of the Bloomberg map lets you compare two national heritages simultaneously, such that each county is colored and shaded so as to indicate how heavily it tilts in one direction or another. And performing that comparison, one finds that most of the USA is proportionately more Swedish. But that’s reversed in the northwest quadrant of the country: from Washington and Oregon east to Minnesota, northern Iowa, and western Wisconsin, there are far more Norwegians.

Having grown up here in the Twin Cities, I was dimly aware that there were more people claiming Norwegian ancestry, but it seemed pretty even. And that was borne out by the survey. Here in Ramsey County, 1.28 times as many respondents claimed Norwegian ancestry as Swedish. (Across the river, Hennepin County has the nation’s largest population of both ancestries.) But for the entire state, nearly twice as many Minnesotans claimed Norwegian as Swedish ancestry. (Likewise, in the western Wisconsin county where my mom grew up, all those Petersons and Nelsons are outnumbered 2 to 1 by the Olsens and Hansens.) On the plains, the disparity is more stark. In my wife’s home county in northern Iowa, it’s nearly a 10:1 advantage; in parts of North Dakota, the ratio passes 15:1.

No other Scandinavian ancestries cracked the top 20, but if you don’t choose a heritage and simply look on the Bloomberg map at which heritage is “predominant” in each county, you’ll find “Finnish” listed for half a dozen counties in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Other outliers like this: Bristol County, MA is predominantly Portuguese; Prince George’s County, MD – Salvadoran; Miami-Dade County, FL – Cuban; several Southern counties do list “African” as the predominant national heritage; and Native American populations dominate counties with reservations.

Germans! Germans! Germans!

Swedish Immigrant Farming, 1882
Swedish immigrant farming in Kittson County, Minnesota (1882) - Wikimedia

Of course, all of that pales in comparison to the prevalence of what’s long been the largest group: descendants of German immigrants. If I’m reading the map correctly, there’s only one county in the whole country with more Swedes than Germans: tiny Kittson County in the northwest corner of Minnesota. There are slightly larger pockets of Norwegians outnumbering Germans in North Dakota, Dutch doing the same in Michigan and Iowa, Scots-Irish in the Carolinas, Alabama, and Mississippi, and Italian-, Polish- and French-Americans prevailing in New England, but by comparison to almost any other heritage, Germans are more populous.

With two historically significant exceptions: both those claiming English and those claiming Irish ancestry make the contest relatively even throughout the country, and even outnumber Germans in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and former Confederacy. (And, for the English-Americans, Utah.) Interestingly, all these years later, that distribution still matches pretty closely with support for U.S. entrance in World War I: the more German Midwest and West were outvoted by the more English East and Southeast.

Southern California has a ton of people

For every single national heritage listed, the So-Cal counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Diego show up as having among the highest concentrations for that ancestry. (And the same is true in most cases for Ventura and San Bernardino as well.) The closest to an exception comes from those claiming Puerto Rican ancestry, who are heavily represented in L.A. but somewhat less so elsewhere in southern California.

Of course, “high concentration” means very different things for different groups: 3.5 million Mexican-Americans, 157,000 Russians, and 20,000 French Canadians all leave Los Angeles County shaded the same dark color. Which points to a big flaw in the Bloomberg map: it doesn’t control for county population.

As a percentage of population, Maine’s York County (9.9%) is clearly more French Canadian than Los Angeles County (0.2%), even though they have almost the same number of residents claiming that ancestry. (Though it cracks the top 20, French-Canadian is a relatively isolated ethnicity to start with: over 350 counties nationwide reported no one with that heritage, second only on this list to Russian-American, not claimed by a single person in over 400 counties.) Likewise, while Phoenix and the rest of Arizona’s Maricopa County have more German-Americans than any other place in the country (over 600,000), that’s as a portion of a population itself larger than more than twenty states. 16% of Maricopa’s population being German is still significant, but clearly less so than the 38% of Lancaster County, PA or the 44% of Cass County, ND naming the same heritage. But all are shaded the same color on the Bloomberg map.

One more tidbit for census buffs… The records of the 1940 U.S. Census will be released one week from today, on April 2nd! Check it out here.

2 thoughts on “Mapping the Melting Pot

  1. Chris-

    The map reflects self-reported ethnicity. Most people are not as ethnic as they would like to believe. If even one person not of the favored ethnicity entered the family tree each generation after immigration, then the percentage you can claim will decline each generation, reaching less than half pretty darn quick. Of course, we could claim that even adoptees have the preferred ethnicity because it is cultural rather than genetic. However, how many of us have retained much culture from the claimed ethnicity, aside from a few ethnic foods?

    The FBI has reported the distribution of alleles for a set of genetic markers useful for CSI. These are reported for a number of populations, ranging from Minnesota Caucasions to Croatians. Computing likelihood ratios comparing what percentage you can claim heritage in one population rather than another quickly reveals that Americans have more in common with each other than with European groups. The typical American Caucasian has a lot of markers in common with African Americans, for example.

    Our romantic fantasies about western European ethnic heritages say a lot about who we are as a people; they say more about our biases than they do about our actual heritage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.