How Many Nationalities Live in the United States?

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The United States is a land of many cultures, home to people of various nationalities and ethnic groups who coexist peacefully side-by-side. Ethnic and racial classification is fluid; depending on an individual’s preference and marriage arrangements they could easily blend together over time.

People tend to identify with multiple ancestries. Some claim they are white while having both European and African heritage in their bloodlines.

1. German

Around 57 million Americans claim German ancestry – that’s approximately one out of every seven Americans. German-American numbers have declined steadily over time since peaking at 50.5 million in 2009. Yet they still constitute one of America’s largest ancestral groups.

At least 2.2 million German immigrants arrived in America during the first half of the 19th century. They comprised the highest influx of immigration during this period and predominantly settled in Philadelphia – a tolerant Quaker settlement which served as a beachhead for pietistic, Protestant immigration from Germany and elsewhere in central Europe.

German-Americans settled throughout the United States, creating communities where they could preserve their language, culture and religion. Being involved with emerging blue-collar industries enabled them to move with jobs more freely than other groups while forging a distinct national identity.

By the mid-20th century, Germans had become a minority in their homeland. Due to economic transformation and rising anti-German sentiment, many Germans chose to relocate once more – this new wave of migration from Germany as well as countries across southern and eastern Europe represented an unexpected change in patterns of U.S. immigration.

Data Sources: Migration Policy Institute (MPI), Census Bureau (2021 American Community Survey [ACS] and 2022 Current Population Survey [CPS]), Departments of Homeland Security and State (using FY 2010-2022 Refugee Arrivals by Nationality Group and Religious Affiliation data); estimates are subject to sampling error; click “Quick Info” icon to see how error affects this estimate, or view estimates at county or city levels with our maps and data tools. MPI is an independent, nonpartisan think tank which studies public policies impacting immigration and integration policies impact both directly.

2. Irish

Irish Americans comprise the second-largest national group in America. From those with extensive family histories to those who know little or nothing of their heritage, more than 40 million American can claim some degree of Irish ancestry.

Irish immigration to America first reached its shores early during colonial settlement. One signer of the Declaration of Independence, as well as many others, were of Irish heritage. Later, due to starvation caused by Ireland’s potato famine, many refugees could afford passage across and fled for America as soon as 1840; migrants included both single men and women although most came first before earning enough money for others in what became known as chain migration.

By the start of the American Civil War, Irish migrants accounted for approximately half of all migrants to America. Many were settled in New England while many others moved west as the US gained native American lands via Louisiana Purchase or territorial expansions. Most Irish migrants preferred large Eastern cities where they could find work while living among fellow Irish-Americans.

Today, Ireland remains home to large communities on both coasts: Boston, New York City and Philadelphia on the East Coast; Kansas City in the Midwest where they dye the river green every St. Patrick’s Day; as well as smaller Irish communities across California, Florida and Texas. Unfortunately these figures do not account for people who identify as Irish-American but don’t hold passports from Ireland due to census not asking about specific nationality groups unless legally mandated;

3. Native American

Experts report an unprecedented surge in American Indian and Alaska Native populations within the US since 2010, marking one of the biggest increases ever witnessed since 1990. But experts disagree as to the cause: in 2020 Census alone, over 5.2 million individuals self-identified themselves as American Indian or Alaska Native alone or combined with another race – this amount being the highest amount ever reported by Census.

There are 574 federally recognized Indigenous nations and communities in the US, each with its own rich history, culture and language. Their relationship with the U.S. can often be tenuous as tribes fight for greater recognition of their sovereignty; tribal lands make up a large percentage of population identified as American Indian or Alaska Native within Census data, representing the second-largest subcategory.

Though an increasing number of people identify as Indigenous, the Census continues to underestimate them. Their ancestry question has been removed from decennial surveys and replaced with one asking about “American Indian and Alaska Native” or “all other races.” Several tribes have requested its return as it serves an essential function in tracking populations.

The Census’s ancestry question can also be misunderstood, leading some respondents to mistakenly identify as American Indian or Alaska Native when they actually intended to report being White, Black or Hispanic. Some experts have proposed adding an “original peoples of acquired American lands” category which would encompass those living before Europe arrived but haven’t been included into existing definitions (such as Hispanic). Other groups have advocated creating a separate category for African-Latinos or Afro-Latinos.

4. Asian

Asian Americans are one of the fastest-growing major racial or ethnic groups nationwide, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data. Over 22 million people identify as Asian American, most tracing their roots back to specific countries or populations in East Asia, Southeast Asia or the Indian subcontinent. Chinese Americans make up the largest Asian American origin group (4.4 million); followed by those who trace back their heritage in India (2 million), Filipinos (3.65 million), Vietnamese Americans (1 million) and Koreans who comprise one category but live across different geographical regions within this country (1.9 million).

Many of these states boast large Asian populations, led by California with the nation’s highest Asian population of nearly 6 million in 2019. Other notable Asian-American populations can be found in New York, Washington, Texas and New Jersey – where around 45% reside westward while 24% can be found south and 19% inhabit Northeastern parts.

Most Asian Americans are foreign-born, with India accounting for 40%, China for 20% and Vietnam 11% of these arrivals. Some immigrants arrived legally through work or student visas; others left their homelands in order to escape persecution or poverty. As with other groups, how Asians immigrated and settled in America shaped their experience and integration. Immigration to the U.S. historically has been motivated by jobs and opportunity as well as family ties, religious freedom and education opportunities. Unfortunately, approximately one-third of Asian Americans who come here as limited English proficient often face barriers when accessing services such as healthcare, social services, housing or education.

5. Hispanic

The United States covers an expansive area in North America. New York and Washington, DC serve as global finance and culture centers while Chicago in the Midwest and Los Angeles in California are major metropolitan areas. But cultural diversity extends well beyond cities with rural communities and Native American tribes who remain deeply tied to their roots remaining strongholds of American identity.

Most individuals who self-identify as Hispanic in the US are Latino Americans. This population group is the fastest-growing demographic, driven by high levels of immigration and fertility rates. Hispanic populations tend to be most concentrated in southwestern United States and California with Mexicans accounting for the greatest share.

Research studies, such as reinterview studies of responses to the 1990 census, indicate that some Hispanics may be confused about how to respond to separate race and Hispanic origin questions. Respondents sometimes reported themselves as Hispanic but incorrectly listed a race other than their own in responses from such studies.

Hispanics strive to clearly define their nationalities and nationality groups; many are especially anxious about being misclassified as White, Black or Asian racial categories being subjective and dependent upon social policies or government definitions; they would rather identify with particular ethnic groups such as Dominicans, Argentineans or Guatemalans instead.

Because of logistical and cost issues, creating more specific nationality categories is unlikely to happen anytime soon. With more categories come added complications of tabulation and analysis which increases data collection costs; furthermore more categories make distinguishing among racially mixed groups more challenging; those who predominantly belong to White but may have at least some Hispanic heritage may become harder.