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In Mother Jones Andrew Serwer has a long profile up of a Mitt Romney adviser who has associations with Lebanese Christian sectarian radicals. This section jumped out at me:

Régina Sneifer, who served in the Fifth Bureau in 1981 at the age of 18, remembers attending lectures where Phares told Christian militiamen that they were the vanguard of a war between the West and Islam. She says Phares believed that the civil war was the latest in a series of civilizational conflicts between Muslims and Christians. It was his view that because Christians were eternally the victims of Muslim persecution, the only solution was to create a national home for Christians in Lebanon modeled after Israel. Like many Maronites at that time, Phares believed that Lebanese Christians were ethnically distinct from Arabs. (This has since proven to be without scientific basis.)

The scientific issue is actually a little more complex than Serwer comprehends. It is true that Muslims and non-Muslims in any given region share a lot genetically, but non-Muslim minorities in the Middle East have gone through a long period of endogamy and demographic contraction, resulting in genetic differences (mostly obviously, they seem to have less Sub-Saharan African admixture than their Muslim neighbors). But the interesting point is how widespread genetic information is now becoming in trying to understand various issues. Serwer is broadly correct I’d say that the Maronite radicals who argue for a strong separation between the origins of their own people and the Muslim and Druze of Lebanon are not on solid basis, just as Muslim Arabs who believe that they are predominantly descended from Arabians are also not on solid ground.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Culture, Ethnicity, Human Genetics 
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I have expressed some skepticism at the idea that in the year 2050 the United States of America will perceive itself as a majority-minority nation; that is, non-Hispanic whites will be be a minority. This projection is repeated and asserted so often that it’s a plausible background assumption when you’re making a model of the American future. But there are other factors which make this a shakier inference from current trends. A new article in The New York Times which has nothing to do with racial identity as such is a good tell as to the other factor at work, Plea to Obama Led to an Immigrant’s Arrest:

he letter appealing to President Obama was written in frustration in January, by a woman who saw her family reflected in his. She was a white United States citizen married to an African man, and the couple — college-educated professionals in Manhattan — were stymied in their long legal battle to keep him in the country.

One of the principals is introduced as white, but later on, you learn:

“I’ve been feeling very confused and ashamed as an American citizen,” she said, evoking her family’s eclectic immigrant origins.

Her father, an emeritus professor of East Asian languages and cultures at the University of California, Berkeley, is the son of Scottish immigrants; her mother’s family were refugees from North Korea; her stepmother is Chinese; and her sister’s husband is Egyptian.

Vanessa Hugdens If her mother is one of the tiny minority of white European-descended Koreans, she happens to be one of those who also has a Korean first name (it isn’t too hard to find these data on the internet). In other words, The New York Times felt that it was permissible for the purposes of this article to frame one of the individuals profiled as white despite the fact that more precisely she’s Eurasian as is clear within the text of the article itself (she may also have identified herself as white to the reporter). I am not sure that she would have been defined as white if her husband was not an African immigrant, as for narrative purposes that is probably a better contrast effect. But imagine if her mother’s family were black immigrants from Jamaica: The New York Times would not define her as white I would hazard in that case.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Culture, Ethnicity, Race 
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One of the “fun facts” of American demographics is that the largest ancestry group consists not of Anglo-Saxon stock, but of Germans. So Wikipedia says, “They currently form the largest self-reported ancestry group in the United States, accounting for 49 million people, or 17% of the U.S. population.” Considering that Germans were a numerous, if not dominant, group numerically as far back as the 18th century (majorities across large portions of southeast Pennsylvania), and then the significant 19th century migration this isn’t totally implausible. On the other hand in the 2000 Census 8.7% of Americans claimed English ancestry. Many people find this very implausible, that is, far too low a figure. You can inspect the Census data and see what’s going on, but I figured I’d bring some of the information in one post so that Wikipedia entries will no longer have a “citation needed” note when people make the claim for the low numbers of English Americans being an artifact.

And with proportions….

The proportions above use the white population in the Census as the baseline.

It seems pretty clear here: the “American” group is sucking up many people of British Isles origin. Additionally, I haven’t posted it, but there are weird changes in people claiming single or multiple ancestries. This is probably a result of the way in which the question was worded and results tabulated, the balance between single and multiple ancestries shifted a lot among many groups in favor of the former. This obviously doesn’t make sense, these are European groups who aren’t subject to a great deal of immigration, and have been intermarrying more & more each generation.

Next there is some interesting data from page 38 Ethnic Options:

Consistency between 1972 & 1971
Puerto Rican 96.5
Negro 94.2
Mexican 88.3
Italian 87.8
Cuban 83.3
Polish 79.2
Spanish 78.9
German 66.1
Others 62.5
Russian 62.3
French 62.1
Irish 57.1
English, Scottish, Welsh 44.1
Don’t know 34.9

As you can see, British Isles groups tend to be very inconsistent year-by-year in their ethnic affinity. I believe this suggests very weak distinctive self-identification. In part this is probably due to the fact that the immigrant experience is so far back for people whose forebears arrived in North America in the 1600s and 1700s, but, I also believe that it is due to the fact that Anglo-Saxon culture is to some extant the default culture of the United States. The fact that Anglo-Saxon identity is so malleable and shallow in explicit (if not implicit background) terms also suggests one hypothesis for the relatively robusticity of a group like German Americans vs. English Americans over the past 30 years: German ancestry is more memorable, distinctive and “ethnic” than English ancestry. So if someone is 1/4 German and 3/4 “American,” one might naturally give “German” as the response when queried about ethnicity because the “American” element is not coded as ethnicity at all. Checking through the Census data it also seems that “American” is tabulated only if no other ethnic groups are given by respondent. This suggests to me that there are many of the people bracketed into German, Irish, etc., probably listed “American” as one of their ethnicities, which itself is probably a proxy for Anglo-Saxon background.

Relying on self-reports is obviously problematic for ethnicity in a nation where a large majority are likely compounds. How can we get a real sense of the distribution of American European ethnicities? Here’s an idea: a social scientist could simply go back several generations in the genealogy of 10,000 random white Americans in the family Family Search database. Individual could be more appropriately coded ethnically.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Ethnicity 
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As a supplement of some of my posts, I’ve stitched together some maps from American Ethnic Geography. It should make everything clearer (the Midland region might some incoherent to you, but most of the Scots-Irish disembarked around Philadelphia and pushed inland and then expanded throughout the Upland South)….

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Culture, Ethnicity 
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A few friends have emailed me some objections to the four culture model of american history. In short, though New England Puritans, Highland South Scotch-Irish and Lowland South Cavaliers are reasonable cultural entities which are easy to put a finger on, the Mid-Atlantic is a hodge-podge which to a great extent is simply thrown in a bin together for simplicity. In 1750 Pennsylvania was the first American colony where people of British descent became a minority. This sort of diversity makes it rather peculiar to speak of a Mid-Atlantic cultural folkway in which Germans, Dutch, Quakers, Roman Catholics, Swedes and Long Island Yankees can be thrown together into one pot. It’s somewhat like assigning the term “environmental” to all the components of variance in quantitative genetics of a phenotype which can not be attributed to genetics. You know what it isn’t, but what is it?

But that’s just an aside. You might infer from the image above that the point of this post is not to explore what the term “Mid-Atlantic” can tell us in any model of social history. Instead, I want to focus on one aspect of American coalitional politics which might be of interest in the next 4 years: Mormon America is a representative of the New England Puritan cultural tradition in “Red America.” A map is going to be more informative here than words.

When I say Mormons are “Puritan,” I’m not saying this as a figure of speech; Mormon America is to a great extent both a direct cultural and genetic descendant of New England Puritanism! The proportion of “English” ancestry in Mormon America is somewhat exaggerated by the fact that missions were sent to England and so you had direct migrants from Europe to Utah. But this can’t explain the whole of the phenomenon, American Mormonism began as a religion of Greater New England. First in upstate New York, and later in northern Ohio. Its relocation to the Midwest was problematic for a host of reasons, but the fact that they were often neighbors of people whose origins were in the South and they were quite clearly Yankees probably exacerbated tensions.

Mormonism is a very communitarian religion, not unexpected from a faith with Puritan origins. Mormon settlements in Utah were laid out like New England towns, as opposed to isolated yeoman farmsteads. Brigham Young socialized water usage to optimally allocate resources for irrigation. A tendency toward campaigns for temperance and high fertility were features of New England society. Mormons are famously fertile (relatively) and do not drink. In Wisconsin administrators preferred Yankee settlers because they were more likely to be willing to raise money for pubic goods such as schools than migrants from the South. Mormons may be low-tax Republicans, but those in good standing tithe a very large proportion of their income obligately in their private life (10% from what I recall), while the church runs itself like a corporation which has economies of scale.

Unlike evangelical Christians in the South, Mormons do not acceptwith resignation that many youth may “raise hell” before settling down. Mormons do not accept the Protestant contention that salvation is through faith alone. Behavior matters. Social pathologies and the personal disorder which has been a feature of Southern cultural life since its inception are not features of Mormon America, which reflects Puritan fixation on public order as a check on private liberty.

Over the past generation Mormons and Southern Protestants have entered into a de facto alliance because of their social traditionalism. The recent controversy over Proposition 8 in California will likely result in even more esteem for the Mormon church from structurally suspicious evangelicals (they do not believe Mormons are Christian, and resent that they claim that they are Christian). In other ways Mormons have come to identify themselves with conservative Protestant America, which to a great extent means Southern America. There are data which show that while 70% of Brigham Young University students rejected Creationism in 1930, 70% now accept it. I believe this is due to cultural influence from evangelical Protestantism, with whom Mormons are now politically allied.

But I believe that the differences between Puritan Mormon America and Southern evangelical America need to be kept in mind. Some of Mitt Romney’s supporters were irritated that some conservative kingmakers (e.g., Richard Land) were leaning to Fred Thompson because of cultural affinities. Culture matters. Mormons may be aligned with the South, but the alliance will always play out in the framework of differences in cultural priors. Mitt Romney is a social conservative, and likely was before he had to lie to become governor of Massachusetts. But he is not a Southern social conservative, and that matters, and when he pretended to be he seemed phony.

Addendum: One can encapsulate what I’m trying to get at by considering an even more extreme case: Jews & black Americans. These two groups are most Left-leaning and Democratic demographics in American society, but, they obviously aren’t equivalent and there are qualitative differences in their liberalism. This doesn’t mean that the position of both these groups on the American Left is in question, but there will always be a tension within the alliance.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Culture, Ethnicity, Religion 
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Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science asks where asks where all the Smiths have gone:

Sam Roberts writes,

In 1984, according to the Social Security Administration, nearly 3.4 million Smiths lived in the United States. In 1990, the census counted 2.5 million. By 2000, the Smith population had declined to fewer than 2.4 million.

Where did all the Smiths go from 1984 to 1990? I can believe it flatlined after 1990, but it’s hard to believe that the count could have changed so much in 6 years.

Perhaps it’s the difference between the SSA and Census methods of counting

Here’s another explanation, it’s the inverse of the phenomenon of those claiming Native American ancestry in the United States doubling in 10 years. Many Smiths were at one point Schmidts, who knows if some of them didn’t revert now that WASP surnames aren’t as value-added? I strongly suspect that the number of ethnic whites in the USA is overstated because those with mixed-ancestry emphasize the most non-traditional quanta of their heritage. That means if someone is 1/4 German & 3/4 English they might declare their ethnicity as German. I’ll probably have to look up some social science on this question at some point….

Note: the rank of Schmidt increased in terms of rank by 33 from 1990 to 2000.

Update: I took a bunch of German names and their English or Anglicized variants and compared their ranks between 1990 and 2000. I’m sure that the trend you see is the combined result of the decrease in proportion of those with very common Anglo names because of the decline of the non-Hispanic white fraction as well as a moderate stream of new German immigrants. But who knows?

Smith - Schmidt +33
Shepard -37 Shafer +254
Baker -1 Becker +74
Miller +1 Muller +147
Taylor -3 Schneider +57
Hill +8 Berg +122
Miner -202 Bergman +2
Brown +1 Braun +176
Dyer -111 Farber +1090
Finch -115 Fink +183
Fox +19 Fuchs +613
Duke -78 Herzog -341
Hunter -23 Jaeger +631
Buck +18 Hirsch +241
Young -3 Jung +840
Hoover +39 Huber +126
Cook -4 Koch +79
King -5 Koenig +366
Cooper -2 Kruger +191
Long - Lang +43
Mason -14 Maurer +160
Butcher +68 Metzger +424
Piper -239 Pfeiffer +372
Knight -44 Ritter +161
Barber -41 Scherer +1029
Black -11 Schwartz +102
Roper -72 Seiler +137
Weaver +11 Weber +71
White -6 Weiss +131

Update II: Proportion of German Americans dropping faster than English Americans?

Update III: Took some Census 2000 data and produced this….

Ancestry First Ancestry Second Ancestry Total Ratio of First to Second Ancestry
German 30165672 12674039 42839711 2.38
Irish 19279211 11245588 30524799 1.71
English 16623938 7885754 24509692 2.11
Italian 12836020 2799547 15635567 4.59
French 4870907 3436659 8307566 1.42
Scottish 3142893 1747688 4890581 1.8
Dutch 2552688 1986681 4539369 1.28
Norwegian 3241637 1236088 4477725 2.62
Scotch-Irish 3283065 1036167 4319232 3.17
Swedish 2436825 1561478 3998303 1.56
Welsh 886139 867655 1753794 1.02
Danish 855797 574927 1430724 1.49
Portuguese 913859 259832 1173691 3.52
Greek 942723 210315 1153038 4.48
British 828089 207044 1035133 4
Swiss 535408 374661 910069 1.43
Austrian 433292 297044 730336 1.46
Finnish 435446 188073 623519 2.32
Scandinavian 308051 117048 425099 2.63
Belgian 217524 130754 348278 1.66
Sicilian 68290 16885 85175 4.04
Celtic 53438 12200 65638 4.38
British Isles 42137 7941 50078 5.31
Luxemburger 26378 18761 45139 1.41
Icelander 30388 12328 42716 2.46
Basque 32121 9690 41811 3.31

I think the ratio of First to Second ancestry is probably a pretty good sense out admixture/outmarriage rates. Look at the Welsh; not very distinct from other British Isles groups and far less numerous, ergo lots of second ancestry.

Update IV: Median age for people of English ancestry is 44. For German it is 37. Same with Irish. What’s up with that?

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Culture, Ethnicity 
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Razib Khan
About Razib Khan

"I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. If you want to know more, see the links at"