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Statistics Pertaining to Norwegian Americans
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There were about 4,5 million people of Norwegian ancestry in the US in 2013, estimatedly [◦2013 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates]

And the population of Norway is expected to reach about 5 167 000 persons by the end of 2014. [SSB, Statistics Norway, "Population, 1 January 2015, estimated"]

2.1 What Norwegian Americans Are and Where to Find Some

"Anyone" is taken into account at first

IN A TV INTERVIEW in Seattle in 1995, King Harald V of Norway told with good cheer that there were four million "Norwegians" in the United States. Five years later there were about four and a half million Norwegian Americans according to the U.S. Census 2000. Of these, about three million claim "Norwegian" as their sole or primary ancestry.

But there is a complication: That census gives an estimate only, and not exact figures. This is so because ethnicity has become subjective. Put bluntly, Jeder (Tom, Dick or Harry) may claim to be a Norwegian-American based only on his subjective feelings in the matter. "I feel I am a Norwegian American, therefore treat me as one" - however, documented ancestry forms no part of the statistics in a case like that.

A little more than 2% of whites in the United States are of Norwegian descent. Before 2000, Norwegian Americans were defined through Census poll categories. Every tenth year a census brought information about how many they were, where they were, in what concentrations, and so on. Also, certain yearly polls might give other data to fill in.

In those days gone by Norwegian American used to be US citizens descended from one or more Norwegian parents. If both parents were of Norwegian ancestry, it was a "single ancestry". Where the parentage was mixed - which it often was - one might state one's "first ancestry" and "second ancestry". Some have more than two ancestries to boast of too, for that matter.

Today, however, in the realm of US statistics a Norwegian-American can be any US citizen, based on the person's subjective feel in the matter. That is quite a complication, and a sign that the US government may want to tone down ethnicity too.

Table 1.1 shows Nordic groups in the 1990 US Census.

Table 1.1: US citizens with Nordic ancestry in 1990 *
ANCESTRY Total Single First Second
Danish1,634,669 456,876 980,868 653,801
Finnish 658,870 259,731 465,070 193,800
Norwegian 3,869,395 1,359,789 2,517,760 1,351,635
Swedish 4,680,863 1,338,964 2,881,950 1,798,913
US total       296,379, 515

*Icelanders were not included in the US Census 1990. And a propos: Norwegian Laps are Norwegian citizens; there is no separate statistics for them in the USA. Source: US Census 1990.

US Census Buerau through American FactFinder. Accessed 31 May 2001: Total ancestry: [] Single ancestry: [] First ancestry: US Census Buerau through American FactFinder. Accessed 31 May 2001.[] Second ancestry: US Census Buerau through American FactFinder. Accessed 31 May 2001.[]

Subjective Identification

"Reform is a change that you're supposed to like." - Noam Chomsky

Then Census 2000 brought a new feature into these matters, and we call it subjective identification. In the last years ethncic membership in the United States has become subjective: If someone feels he is Norwegian American, that he is, at least as far as official statistics are concerned. The subjective ethnicity tends to dilute and complicate matters. And that is one good reason for using not more than statistical estimates today. [Table 1.2]

Table 1.2: Ancestry Estimates From the Census 2000
ANCESTRY Estimate Lower bound Upper bound
Danish 1,499,804 1,447,474 1,552,134
Norwegian 4,547,291 4,312,938 4,781,644
Swedish 4,332,226 4,190,984 4,473,468
Total population 273,643,269 *** ***

Source: Census 2000 Supplementary Survey Summary Tables. The Survey universe is limited to the household population.

American FactFinder: QT-02. Profile of Selected Social Characteristics: 2000 [] (Accessed 15 Oct 2001)

Apart from that there are yearly polls that may furnish other data.

According to the new rules, anyone - a black, an eskimo or Latino and so on - has the right to feel that he or she is a Norwegian American, and is allowed to get registered as it in the next Census and so on. There must be far too much notoriety in the whole design - which may undermine the concept of ethnicity from within. It can be very tempting to discern between "real" and bogus Norwegian Americans from that census on.

On Concentrations and Clustering

Sticking to the old definition of 'Norwegian American', let me state they are spread "everywhere" in the United States, but are clustered more densely in the Midwest and West. They found it rather easy to combine their new identity as American citizens with their Norwegian ethnicity, because the two identities did not contradict one another severely, if at all (Lovoll 2007: 80). The percentage of Norwegian Americans is higher in states of the Midwest and West than other places (figure 1.1).

Gist of Norwegian Americans

Gist of Norwegian Americans
Figure 1.1: Percentage of persons of Norwegian ancestry in the US.

Source: 1990 Decennial Census. US Census Bureau.

And there were most Norwegian Americans in the Midwest and West (figure 1.2).

Gist of Norwegian Americans

Gist of Norwegian Americans
Figure 1.2: Geographical distribution of Norwegian Americans by state, 1990.

Source: Odd Lovoll 1999, 306.

Fig. 1.2 is based on the census of 1990. It shows how many Norwegian Americans there were in the various states. Whereas Fig 1.1 brings percentages, Fig 1.2 brings totals by broad groups - and shows that there were most Norwegian Americans in the Midwest and West (dark areas).

The information of Figure 1.1 and 1.2 brings to light that populous states may contain many more Norwegian Americans that sparsely populated states with a denser concentration of them. Thus, even though California does not have the greatest concentration of Norwegian Americans, there are over 100,000 people of Norwegian origin there: in fact, the 1990 census figure was 411,282, which is the third largest Norwegian-American population in any state (figures 1.1 and 1.2; Lovoll 1999, 305; table 2.3).

Table 1.3: Number of Norwegian Americans in some states
Rank of states Number
1. Minnesota 757,212
2. Wisconsin 416,271
3. California 411,282
4. Washington 333,521
5. North Dakota 189,106
Texas 94,096
Florida some 90,000

Source: Lovoll 1999, 305-6.

A state's population can reflect initial settlement patterns, as various ancestry groups settled in different places. Thus, "over half of the Norwegians and Czechs are clustered in the Midwest." And Minnesota had the largest number of persons of Norwegian American ancestry: 757,212 in a population of 4,919,479 (table 1.4; and the 1990 census).

Table 1.4: Ancestry group 1990: Percent distribution by region
Ancestry group Total North-east Mid-west South West
Danish 1,635,000 9 34 12 45
Finnish 659,000 14 47 11 27
Norwegian 3,869,000 6 52 10 33
Swedish 4,681,000 14 40 14 32

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1990.

Accessed 31 May 2001. []

In 1990 over half of the Norwegians were clustered in the Midwest, and one third in the West, while for example 45% of the Danish lived in the West. But there were more Norwegians than Danes in the West - about 1,045,000 Norwegians and 735,000 Danes, according to the census information. Here it should be inserted that Scandinavians are Danes, Swedes and Norwegians. And Nordic people, persons from Norden, also include Fins and Icelanders (table 1.4).

This briefing hints at what Norwegian Americans were by way of statistics before Census 2000 and its change of defintions; where "the real" Norwegian Americans lived; in what percentages and numbers; and where they were clustered. The information on Norwegian Americans has been complemented with some statistical data of other Nordics to compare with. Two recent snags called "subjective identification" and "estimates" from Census 2000 were briefly looked into at first, and then ignored for a while in order to say something meaningful based on former, useful encodings.

In the next section the focus will be on who most Norwegian Americans are, where they have their roots, and how long they have existed as a group.

2.2 When Norwegian Americans Appeared

MOST OF the Norwegians that first immigrated to America were farmers and fishers of the early 1800s. Oppressed in their homeland because of their Haugean (Lutheran Quietist) way of living, the first group of emigrants of 1825 was later followed by others and still others. Most Norwegian emigrants went to America, and except for the Fins, who arrived quite late, most Nordic immigrants came to the States between 1820 and 1940 (tables 1.5 and 1.6).

Table 1.5: Immigrants to the US by country of origin
Countries 1820-1996
Denmark 374,287
Finland 40,315
Norway 756,448
Sweden 1,398,578

Source: Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service.

  US Census Bureau. Accessed 31 May 2001. []
  CIA - The World Factbook 2000. Accessed 31 May 2001.
  Countries established since beginning of World War I are included with countries they belonged to.
  Norway was included with Sweden 1820-68.
  Figures are totals, not annual averages, and were tabulated as follows: 1820-1867, alien passengers arrived; 1868-1891 and 1895-1897, immigrant aliens arrived; 1892-1894 and 1898 to present, immigrant aliens admitted. From 1989 totals include legalized immigrants. (Data before 1906 relate to country whence alien came; 1906-1980, to country of last permanent residence; 1981 to present data based on country of birth.) Site accessed 31 May 2001. []

This immigration pattern ties in with historical-cultural phenomena in Norway, such as poverty, population increase, religous suppression, national dependency and gaining independence from Sweden, and World War I (see table 2.5). Those were main reasons why very many Norwegians decided to leave their old country where they starved and suffered a lot, hoping to get it better in America. It has been substantiated statistically that the main reason for emigrating from Norway was economical, as the emigration intensity followed suit with the economical situation in Norway and America. Periods of poor conditions in Norway coincided with increased emigration. Negative conditions in America slowed it down correspondingly (see Lovoll 1999, 25-41).

Gist of Norwegian Americans
Figure 1.3: Incorporation of states in the US.

Source: Röhr and Fleisher 1987, map 115: "USA 1783-1912"

Most immigrants during 1840-1940 came by boat too. From New York most of them sailed up along the Erie Channel to Lake Ontario and further westward, as new territories were made available for venturing settlers.

Getting under the Skin of Statistical Data

Statistics does not bring the Norwegian American immigrants within close-up range. "In a survey of the emigration the human factor may easily disappear in numbers, tables, and graphs; statistics only indicate the dimensions . . . ", writes Lovoll (1999, 23). How bring flesh to the "bones of statistical data"? In order to enliven much dominant immigrant views and feelings and get an inkling of the harsh conditions that faced very many immigrants for a long time, one may go into immigrant productions that reveal their concerns and conditions. In this respect their songs, tales, and other forms of cultural expressions matter:

1. Songs

Most of the widely popular immigrant song "How Things Have Gone", in Einar Haugen's translation is found on a previous page in the series. It is a good example.

2. Tales (narratives)

Stories often help us to share something with main protagonists through acts of identification. This along with facts and details that are enlivened for us, can help making parts of history come alive.

The "America fever" was nourished by what Norwegian emigrants wrote to the friends and families.

3. Pictures

Pictures - photos or drawings or both - fit the Internet - it is a screen medium - and often enrich a presentation. There is at times ample truth in the poetic "A picture says more than a thousand words" - about tools and equipment, living quarters, scenes from daily living, farm life, pictures from rural and coastal areas.

Songs, tales and images - these three inroads supplement the "bare bones" of averaged statistics.

Norwegian American song lines, Collection

Statistics of Norwegian Americans, Literature  

Djupedal, Knut, og Steinar Hybertsen. Amerikabilder: Den norske Vesterheimen 1860-1960 (America Pictures: The Norwegian Vesterheim). Oslo: Aschehoug, 2008.

Lovoll, Odd. Norwegian Americans. Gale Encyclopedia. 2000. Accessed 2014. ——— A brief article about Norwegian Americans.

Lovoll, Odd S. The Promise Fulfilled: A Portrait of Norwegian Americans Today. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998. Online at Google Books, partial view.

––– The Promise of America: A History of the Norwegian-American People. Rev. ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.

––– Lovoll, Odd. Norwegians on the Prairie: Ethnicity and the Development of the Country Town. St Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2007.

Röhr, Anders, og Jens Fleischer. Historisk atlas. København: Politiken, 1987.

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