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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 (American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates)

The population of Norway was 5 328 212 persons (officially) on 1 January 2019. [SSB, Statistics Norway, "Population, 1 January 2019]

2.1 What Norwegian Americans Are and Where to Find Some

"Anyone" is taken into account at first

Of the four and a half million Norwegian Americans that claim Norwegian ancestry in the U.S. Census 2000, about three millions claim "Norwegian" as their sole or primary ancestry.

But there is a complication: The Census estimates are not exact figures. Moreover, Jeder, Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane may claim to be Norwegian-Americans based only on their subjective feelings in the matter. "I feel I am a Norwegian American, therefore treat me as one." Documented ancestry is different.

Some 2% of whites in the United States were of Norwegian descent recently. 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. That is quite a sign that the US government has wanted to tone down ethnicity too.

Subjective Identification

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

Then Census 2000 brought a new feature into ancestry matter, namely subjective identification. A black, an Inuit or Latino and so on - has the right to feel that he or she is a Norwegian American and get registered as one in the next Census and further.

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 found 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; Odd Lovoll 1999, 306)

It stands out that populous states may contain many more Norwegian Americans that sparsely populated states with a denser concentration of them.

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.

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.) []

The 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 thus: Periods of poor conditions in Norway coincided with increased emigration. Negative conditions in America slowed it down correspondingly (see Lovoll 1999, 25-41).

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:


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. In Norway, there are many folk songs, folkeviser. The first large collection, by M. Landstad, printed in 1854, contains such delightful folk tunes as "Han Mass og Han Lass". This "joking ballad" (TSB F 54) is from Jølster in Norway. The fanfare of the olympic winter games i Oslo 1952 was based on the refrain in it.

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.


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.

The traditions, heritage and history

Songs, tales, images and living with Norwegian-Americans - these inroads yield input that may be called "flesh to the bones" of averages-based statistics.

Initial meetings with Norwegian-American culture may be had through: History (including Norse people settling in America from before Columbus), public celebrations, experiencing Norwegian traditions, customs, beliefs, folklore including proverbs. There is also Norwegian cuisine, language, ways of greetings, expressions and encounters, education, religion (if any); relations with Norway, and contributions to the larger culture by Norwegian-Americans at large.


Statistics pertaining to 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 of Multicultural America. Edited by Jeffrey Lehman. Vol 2. 2nd ed. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group. ⍽▢⍽ Professor Lovoll's article is on pp. 1325-38.

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

⸻. 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.

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