American ethnicity

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American ethnicity
Total population
6.75% of the US population in 2012)
Regions with significant populations
Southern United States
English (American English dialects)
(Southern Baptist, Methodist, Evangelical Christian, etc.)
Roman Catholicism
Related ethnic groups
Anglo-Americans; English Americans; European Americans; Confederados
Top ancestry in each U.S. county in 2000. Counties in which a plurality of residents report having American ancestry are shaded light yellow.

American ethnicity refers to people who self-identify their ethnicity as "American", rather than the more common hyphenated American ancestry groups that make up the majority of the American people (e.g. German-Americans). According to U.S. Census data, American ethnic identity is most commonly reported in the Southern United States, particularly in the Upper South.[2]


The emergence of a distinct American ethnic identity in the Thirteen Colonies mirrors that of the Criollo people in Spanish America, or the Afrikaner people in the Dutch Cape Colony. In the War of Jenkins Ear, 1741, local militiamen fighting under Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon were the first to be called "Americans" rather than "colonials" or "colonists".[3]

Today, people in the US who identify as ethnically American tend to have long genealogical histories within the country reaching back many generations to colonial-era immigration. Ethnic "Americans" share most of their ancestry with modern-day British, Dutch,[4] German, Irish, and French Americans as well as with Melungeons in the Appalachian region.

English and Scotch-Irish are the dominant ethnicities involved in those considering themselves ethnically American, having been by far the two most common white ethnicities in the United States from colonial times until waves of European immigration beginning in the mid-19th century.

American ancestry in the U.S. Census

According to 2000 U.S census data, an increasing number of United States citizens identify simply as Americans on the question of ancestry.[5][6][7] According to the United States Census Bureau, the number of people in the United States who reported American and no other ancestry increased from 12.4 million in 1990 to 20.2 million in 2000.[8] This increase represents the largest numerical growth of any ethnic group in the United States during the 1990s.[9] The US Census Bureau says, "Ancestry refers to a person's ethnic origin or descent, 'roots,' or heritage, or the place of birth of the person or the person's parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States".[10] American sociologist Mary C. Waters suggests that it may be speculated that mixed ethnicity or ancestry nominate a more recent and differentiated ethnic group.[11]

In the 2000 United States Census, 7.2 percent of the American population chose to identify itself as having American ancestry (see Race and ethnicity in the United States for a list of ancestries in the U.S.).[9] The four states in which a plurality of the population reported American ancestry are Arkansas (15.7%), Kentucky (20.7%), Tennessee (17.3%), and West Virginia (18.7%).[8] Sizable percentages of the populations of Alabama (16.8%), Mississippi (14.0%), North Carolina (13.7%), South Carolina (13.7%), Georgia (13.3%), and Indiana (11.8%) also reported American ancestry. In the Southern United States as a whole 11.2% reported American ancestry, second only to African American. American was the 4th most common ancestry reported in the Midwest (6.5%) and West (4.1%). All Southern states except for Delaware and Maryland reported at or above the national average of 7.2% American, but outside the South, only Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Idaho, Maine. All Southern states except for Delaware, Maryland, Florida, and Texas reported 10% or more American, but outside the South, only Missouri and Indiana did so. American was in the top 5 ancestries reported in all Southern states except for Delaware, in 4 Midwestern states bordering the South (Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio) as well as Iowa, and 6 Northwestern states (Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming), but only one Northeastern state, Maine. The pattern of areas with high levels of American is similar to that of areas with high levels of not reporting any national ancestry.[12]

South Midwest West NE
Average 11.2% 6.5% 4.1%
Plurality AR KY TN WV
10%+ All but DE MD FL TX IN MO
7.2%+ All but DE MD IN MO OH ME
Top 5 All but DE IN MO OH

In 2011, 20,875,080, 6.75% of the total estimated population, self-identified as having American ethnicity in the 2009-2011 American Community Survey.[1]

The long form decennial census questionnaire was replaced by the annual American Community Survey in 2005 which has a smaller sample size. The ancestry question is largely similar to the 2000 long form census.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "B04006, People Reporting Ancestry". 2009-2011 American Community Survey. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 23, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Ancestry: 2000 2004, p. 6
  3. Morison, Samuel Eliot (1972). The Oxford History of the American People. New York City: Mentor. p. 216. ISBN 0-451-62600-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. [1]
  5. Reynolds Farley, 'The New Census Question about Ancestry: What Did It Tell Us?', Demography, Vol. 28, No. 3 (August 1991), pp. 414, 421.
  6. Stanley Lieberson and Lawrence Santi, 'The Use of Nativity Data to Estimate Ethnic Characteristics and Patterns', Social Science Research, Vol. 14, No. 1 (1985), pp. 44-6.
  7. Stanley Lieberson and Mary C. Waters, 'Ethnic Groups in Flux: The Changing Ethnic Responses of American Whites', Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 487, No. 79 (September 1986), pp. 82-86.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Ancestry: 2000 2004, p. 7
  9. 9.0 9.1 Ancestry: 2000 2004, p. 3
  10. Ancestry, U.S. Census Bureau.
  11. Waters, Mary C. (1990). Ethnic options: choosing identities in America. University of California Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-520-07083-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. p. 155 (end)