This is the first of three articles that explore where people of Estonian ancestry live in the United States. This article focuses on the number of individuals of Estonian ancestry (hereafter called US Estonians) and the recent change in that number.
The other two articles will examine the number of US Estonians by metropolitan area and then by state.
The US Census Bureau, the source of the data used here, is charged with counting all US residents every ten years, but it also collects a variety of other information such as the number of vehicles in the household, house value, and ethnic ancestry. Rather than requesting this information once every ten years, the Census Bureau has sent out 300,000 surveys every month since 2005. It reports this information annually based on approximately 3.5 million survey returns. It is a relatively small sample of the entire US population but for large places, such as metropolitan areas and states, it provides a reasonable estimate of information not readily available elsewhere. Combining several years of data provides better information but it is not specific to a particular year. Thus, ‘2007 3yr data’ is an aggregation of three years, 2005-2007, while the ‘2021 5yr data’ includes five years of survey results, 2017-2021. Each statistic reported also has a margin of error but this will not be extensively discussed other than to note that the numbers reported are not exact even though they look precise. The larger the target population, the smaller the margin of error. We note that the data for groups larger than Estonians are likely more exact.
Furthermore, ethnic ancestry is self-reported and may change as, for example, the increased willingness of Native Americans to report their heritage over the last several decades. After the film “Dances with Wolves” in 1990 portrayed them in a positive manner, their numbers went from less than 2 million in the 1990 census to 4.1 million by the 2000 census. Personal data such as age is objective while ancestry is not.
The accompanying table (pg 10) shows a number of ethnicities in the US that were selected to illustrate the varying sizes of ethnic groups in the US. It is obvious that the number of US Estonians is on the lower end of the scale. Since approximately 100 ethnicities are reported by the Census, there are groups other than Cypriots and New Zealanders that are smaller. Still, the margin of error is likely to be more relevant for the US Estonians than, for example, US Lithuanians who would likely have about 20 times more returned Census surveys than Estonians.
While there are fewer Cypriots and New Zealanders in the US, it may be surprising that there are clearly more people from Malta, Luxembourg, Iceland, and Basque. All four have populations less than half of the 1.3 million in Estonia, with Iceland being the smallest at only 375,000 people. It is refreshing to travel through Iceland on the way to Estonia and visit a country with fewer people while also acknowledging their role in leading the way to recognizing Estonian independence. At the same time, the number of Icelanders in the US at over 50,000 is impressive. It is possible, however, that the smaller US Estonian population encourages them to be more engaged in establishing an Estonian identity in the US and broadcasting our presence here more actively than larger US ethnic communities.
Regarding our Baltic neighbors, it is striking how they outnumber Estonians in the US while the differences in their country populations are much smaller. For example, Latvia’s population of 1.8 million is only about 40% larger than Estonia’s population but in the US, their 2021 number is about 2.8 times higher, down slightly from 3.4 times higher in 2007. Even more noticeable is the size of the US Lithuanian population at over 600,000, more than 20 times higher than the US Estonian population. Lithuania’s current population of 2.8 million is a little over twice Estonia’s population. Finland, also with over 600,000 in the US, has an impressive total considering its home population of 5.5 million.
What is perhaps most surprising is the sharp drop in the US Lithuanian population of 111,000 from 2007 to 2021. In recent years, the US Lithuanian population in Metro Chicago alone has declined by 24,000 to 68,000. Even with these declines, the number of US Lithuanians is impressive. The US Latvian population likewise has declined but by a much lower percentage.
Regarding the rest of the table, it is remarkable to see the number of US Germans at 42 million. Also, while it is not the intent of this article to assess reasons for recent immigration, it generally appears that the more prosperous European countries are associated with declining numbers in the US. Ukraine is an example of a country in turmoil with increasing numbers in the US. The decreases tend to be from countries in northern Europe. Counter to this trend, there was a small increase in the number of US Estonians. It is likely that this small increase is not an exception to the general pattern but rather a readjustment to bring Estonia more in line with northern European countries with much larger numbers in the US.
Finally, an observation about the increase in the number from Scandinavia. The Census allows the use of ethnicities such as Slavic, Scandinavian, European, Northern European, American, Soviet Union, etc. This probably accounts for some of the declines in the US Norwegian and particularly the US Swedish populations.
In summary, our successes in the digital world, NATO support, and numerous other accomplishments are a testament to the Estonian people. Advances that the comparatively small Estonian population has made in the US and worldwide are remarkable.
Select USA Ethnic Ancestries 2007 3yr and 2021 5yr Data