The way that different races and ethnicities are spread around the U.S. says a lot about our history. Some groups ended up in a particular region of the U.S. through the invitation of friends and family; others relocated to a particular place because the timing of their migration coincided with the "opening up" or economic boom of a certain part of the U.S. Of course, other patterns stem from more tragic histories, including the concentration of Native Americans onto reservations and the imprint of slavery in the South.
Nathan Yau, a statistician who runs the blog Flowing Data, has made a series of gorgeous maps breaking down the population of America. The maps are part of his recent project to recreate the 1874 Statistical Atlas of the United States with the original design but 2013 data. Below are 15 of them that illustrate how the U.S. population got here. All of these categories are self-reported; the data is based on what Americans told Census workers about race, ethnicity and background.
The first two maps show the country's more recent immigrants. The first one shows where Americans who are foreign born live. The coasts and the Southwest are home to many more recent immigrants, with some interesting exceptions, such as Eastern Washington and Southwestern Kansas.
The second looks at people whose parents are foreign-born. In other words, this is a map of second-generation Americans. These people make up between 20 and 70 percent of the population in a very substantial swath of America.
The next map shows where the states that Americans settle in after moving states where they were born. Note the concentration around state borders, as well as in states that have experienced a recent population boom, like Nevada. The high percentage of retirees has certainly influenced the numbers in Arizona, Florida and New Mexico.
The next four maps show how the U.S. population breaks down along racial lines -- where people who identify as black, white, Asian and Alaskan native/American Indians live. (The Census doesn't consider Hispanics or Latinos to be a racial group -- people who identify as Hispanic, Latino or Spanish can be of any race. To see where people who identify as Hispanics live, check out this or this.)
This chart breaks down the population of each state by race. The size of the square is proportional to the population, so the most populous states like California and Texas, appear much larger than sparsely populated states like Wyoming.
The colored pattern in the square indicates the state's racial breakdown. Each of the vertical lines represents a different racial group - white is orange, black is purple, Asian is red, and so on. The horizontal lines represent where someone was born. The top section represents those born in the state, the middle is those born out of state, and the bottom is those born out of the U.S.
The next eight maps show how Americans of European ancestry break down by country of origin. The Census uses the term ancestry to indicate one's roots or heritage.
Yau's maps are limited to European ancestry due to limitations in the data. Unfortunately, the Census doesn't offer country-by-country breakdown for people whose ancestors didn't come from Europe, perhaps because the response is quite low for certain ancestries, Yau says.
Germans are the largest ancestral group in the U.S., with 15.3 percent of Americans reporting that they had German heritage in 2013 (the Census allows people to pick more than one group). Almost all of these people are concentrated in middle America.
This is in part because Congress turned a huge part of the country over to the railroads in the mid- to late 19th Century. In order to raise money to build the railroads, the companies actively recruited people in Germany to immigrate to the U.S. and buy the land.
The Irish are concentrated in the East, especially in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York. Many Irish came to the U.S. in the years after the potato famine began in 1845, when over a million Irish people died after potato crops failed for several years. Relatively poor, they stuck to Irish ghettos that had formed on the Eastern seaboard. But there are also surprisingly big pockets of people with Irish ancestry in Montana, Oklahoma and West Virginia.
Americans with Italian heritage also live almost solely on the East coast. Many Italians arrived in the U.S. in the late 1800s to work as unskilled laborers in the industrial boom that was transforming American cities. Italian Americans also have some presence in California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Florida.
Russian Americans ended up in the East Coast as well, with some spread throughout the Dakotas and Montana. There's also a heavy pocket of Russians in Alaska, where Russian hunters and trappers have worked for centuries.
The Swedes and Norwegians are heavily concentrated in the Midwest. Many Scandinavians came to the U.S. between the end of the Civil War and World War I. They ended up in the Upper Midwest both because of the timing -- the Homestead Act of 1862 gave free land in the Midwest to anyone who agreed to cultivate it for at least five years -- and also because of personal connections. The region had come to function like a cultural center for Scandinavians, home to churches and Scandinavian-language newspapers.
Those of English and Welsh ancestry are spread pretty evenly throughout the U.S., in part because of their huge numbers. About 8.3 percent of Americans say they have English ancestry, while 0.6 percent say the same for Welsh.
Americans with French ancestry are heavily concentrated in two pockets, for different reasons -- the Northeast and Louisiana. France set up a colony in Louisiana in the 1800s and founded New Orleans in 1718. The northeastern population is due in part to a large emigration from Quebec to the U.S. in the 19th and early 20th Century, as French-Canadians sought out work in the more economically developed Northeast.
And finally, here's a map of all the people who identify their ancestry in the Census as "American." People sometimes choose this category because they aren't clear on their ancestry, or as a political statement. Whatever the reason, this is a category that most Americans can identify with.
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