Americans of German ancestry outnumber others


I came across an article the other day that pointed out there are more Americans who report they are of German ancestry (like myself) than of any other.

A report from Business Insider said that 49.8 million Americans who claim German ancestry, versus 35.7 million Irish, 31.7 million Mexicans, 27.4 million English, and 17.5 million Italians, to name the largest groups.

There are 19.1 plain “Americans” who don’t report foreign ancestry, either as a political statement or because they don’t know it.  And there are 5.2 million American Indians and Alaska natives, who of course comprise many nations.

Why don’t we hear more about German-Americans?  The reason is that nationality is not a question of ancestry and blood, but of upbringing and, in the USA at least, choice.

I think that very few Americans of German ancestry think of themselves as German-Americans.  Certainly General Eisenhower and Admiral Nimitz didn’t.  Certainly I don’t.

It is interesting to know that some of my ancestors came to Pennsylvania and Maryland from Germany in the 18th century, and that an ancestor, Johann Ebersole, fought in the Continental Army under George Washington.  But if I learned tomorrow that none of these things is true, it would not change my sense of who I am.

In fact, I grew up with a certain amount of prejudice against Germans.  I used to think of Germans as authoritarian, hierarchical and rule-bound, and a perfect contrast to us freedom-loving, democratic and practical Americans.

Since then I’ve come to see us Americans take on all the qualities that I saw as defects in the German national character.  And, although I don’t have a close knowledge of Germany, my impression is that Germany is more egalitarian and more respectful of basic civil liberties than the USA.


Here is a complete list of ancestry groups in the Business Insider article.

48.9 million Germans.

35.7 million Irish.

31.7 million Mexicans.

27.4 million English

19.1 million self-described “Americans”.

17.5 million Italians

9.8 million Poles

9.3 million French (except Basques)

5.8 million Scots

5.2 million Scotch-Irish (Ulster Presbyterians)

4.95 million Dutch

4.6 million Puerto Ricans

4.6 million Norwegians

4.3 million Swedes

3.8 million Chinese (except Taiwanese)

3.4 million Filipinos

3.2 million Asian Indians

3.1 million Russians

2.1 million French-Canadians

1.9 million Welsh

Here is a list of broader census groups.

231.0 million white people

50.5 million Hispanics

42.0 million African-Americans or black people

17.3 million Asians

5.2 million American Indians and Alaska natives.

1.2 million Hawaii natives and Pacific Islanders


Maps of Ancestry Groups Across America by Gus Lubin for Business Insider.

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2 Responses to “Americans of German ancestry outnumber others”

  1. Bill Harvey Says:

    And I’ll add 2 heavy social factors that must figure in somehow: German-Americans on the home front took a nasty beating during both World Wars; and radical and labor politics from the mid-19th century on, often spearheaded by Germans, was met with enormous repression. B


    • philebersole Says:

      Two good points!

      I should have mentioned the repression of German-Americans, especially during the First World War.

      I remember a meeting I took part some 30 or so years ago in regarding racial prejudice, in which a black minister asked if any of us were from families that had suffered from prejudice or persecution.

      A majority of people in the room had stories to tell about the persecution of their German and German-American grandparents during the First World War. I’m told my maternal grandfather’s third wife was investigated by the Department of Justice because she had a “von” in her maiden name. (That’s the grandfather who was a lawyer, not the one who was a dirt farmer.)

      Of course not all the immigrants from Germany were products of the same culture. The German Pietists who came to Pennsylvania during the 18th century were not the same as the German liberals and socialists who came to the Midwest in the 19th century.


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