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This spotlight examines the foreign born from Africa. It is the second in a series on the size and characteristics of the foreign-born population in the United States by region and country of birth (for the first article, click here).
While the African born make up a small proportion of the foreign-born population in the United States, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of immigrants born in Africa over the past couple of decades.
As a group, the African born are more likely to be proficient in English, work in higher-level occupations, and have higher earnings than the overall foreign-born population. However, closer examination of the African born immigrants from specific countries reveals a great deal of diversity in migration patterns, political conditions, economies, and group histories.
The series draws primarily from Census 2000 data, including social, economic, and housing profiles of the foreign born developed by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The African born accounted for about three percent of the total foreign-born population.
In 2000, of the 31.1 million foreign born in the United States, about 881,300, or 2.8 percent, were born in African countries.
In 2000, there were about 880,000 African born residing in the United States, an increase of 142 percent since 1990, when there were only 363,819 African born.
Regions of Africa
Figure 1 (above) indicates that the bulk of the increase after 1990 is a result of growing numbers of foreign born from Western African countries (see sidebar for definitions), which increased 214,941 (192.7 percent), between 1990 and 2000.
The Eastern and Northern African populations also showed a sizable increase during the past decade, growing by 140,999 (195.0 percent) and 91,447 (92.3 percent) respectively. The number of foreign born from Middle Africa grew by 18,100 (205.7 percent) and Southern Africa’s grew by 31,785 (91.6 percent).
Western Africans (326,507) accounted for 37.0 percent of the overall African-born population in 2000. The main sending countries from this region were Nigeria (134,940), Ghana (65,570), and Liberia (39,030).
Eastern Africans (213,299) made up 24.2 percent of the African-born population. Most Eastern Africans in the U.S. were born in Ethiopia (69,530), Kenya (40,680), and Somalia (35,760).
Northern African countries (190,491) accounted for 21.6 percent of the African-born population. Egypt (113,395) contributed by far the largest group from this region, followed by Morocco (34,680), and Sudan (19,790).
Southern Africans (66,496) made up about 7.5 percent of the African foreign born, with most immigrants coming from South Africa (63,560).
Middle Africa (26,900) accounted for 3.1 percent of the African born, with those from Cameroon (11,765) accounting for the largest segment.
About 6.5 percent (57,607) of the African born did not report their country of birth.
Of the total African born in the United States, 56.6 percent arrived between 1990 and 2000, 25.7 percent arrived between 1980 and 1989, and 17.2 percent arrived before 1980.
The African-born groups with the largest numbers who entered between 1990 and 2000 were from Nigeria (71,285), Egypt (46,425), and Ethiopia (43,295).
The African-born groups with the largest percentage of their populations arriving between 1990 and 2000 were from Angola (91.6 percent), Somalia (91.1 percent), and Mauritania (88.5 percent), which together accounted for 36,545 new arrivals.
Just more than a third (318,165) or 36.1 percent of the African born were naturalized U.S. citizens, compared with about 40 percent (12.5 million) of the total foreign-born population. The African-born groups most likely to be naturalized — foreign born from Libya (62.9 percent), Egypt (59.1 percent), and Mozambique (52.1 percent) — were also among those who have been in the country the longest.
Conversely, the sending countries with the lowest naturalization rates — Mauritania (6.5 percent), Botswana (10.9 percent), Togo (12.9 percent), and Benin (12.9 percent) — tended to be those with high proportions entering between 1990 and 2000.
The median age of the total African born (36.1 years old) was slightly younger compared with the overall foreign-born population (37.5 years old).
The oldest African-born groups were from Egypt (42.3 years old), Libya (41.6 years old), Mauritius (40.8 years old), and Tunisia (40.5 years old). The youngest African-born groups were from Botswana (24.8 years old), Somalia (26.1 years old), and Sudan (30.2 years old).
About 55 percent of the African born were men, compared with 49.8 of the foreign-born population in general. Again, this may reflect the recent arrival of most African born because, generally, recent economic migrants tend to be men of working age. Conversely, the populations who have been in the country longest tend to become less male-dominated because the initial migrant’s family members join them and because of women's longer life expectancy.
The groups with the highest percentage of men were Mauritania (87.0 percent), Gambia (66.8 percent), Togo (65.7 percent), and Senegal (65.3 percent). The groups with the highest percentage of women were Mauritius (56.7 percent), Liberia (53.1 percent), and Cape Verde (50.9 percent).
About 682,100 (78.5 percent) of the African born age 5 and older speak a language other than English at home, compared to about 83 percent of the overall foreign-born population.
The African born with the highest percent of those speaking a language other than English at home — from Somalia (96.4 percent), Eritrea (94.3 percent), Cape Verde (93.7 percent), and Senegal (93.3 percent)— were also among the groups that recently entered the U.S..
The African-born groups with the highest percentage of limited English proficiency — or those who reported speaking English less than "very well" — were from Mauritania (22.4 percent), Guinea (35.6 percent), and Somalia (36.5 percent).
Of the African born age 5 and older who spoke a language other than English at home, 65.8 percent reported speaking English "very well." Zimbabwe (88.2 percent) and South Africa (88.0 percent), had the highest percentage of those with a high degree of English proficiency, followed by Nigeria (84.9) and Zambia (84.3 percent).
Of the African-born population age 25 and older, 86.4 percent reported having a high school or higher degree compared to 61.8 percent of the total foreign-born population.
Those born in Zimbabwe (96.7 percent), Botswana (95.5 percent), and Malawi (95 percent) were the most likely to report having a high school degree or higher. Those born in Cape Verde (44.8 percent), Mauritania (60.8 percent), and Somalia (63.3 percent) were the least likely to report having completed a high school education.
Of the African-born population age 25 and older, 42.8 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher education, compared to 24 percent of the overall foreign-born population.
Those born in Egypt (59.7 percent), Cameroon (58.7 percent), and Nigeria (58.6 percent) were among the most likely to report having a bachelor’s degree or higher. Those born in Cape Verde (7.2 percent) were least likely to report having a bachelor’s or higher degree, followed by those born in Somalia (16.6 percent) and Eritrea (19.9 percent).
Among the African-born population age 16 and older, 71 percent (565,370) participated in the civilian labor force, compared to 60.8 percent (17.3 million) of the total foreign born.
The African-born groups who were most likely to be in the labor force were from Nigeria (77.9 percent), Ghana (77.0 percent), Gambia (76.1 percent), and Sierra Leone (75.8 percent). The African born who had the lowest labor force participation rates were from Botswana (44.4 percent), Somalia (58.1 percent), and Tunisia (59.6 percent).
Of the population age 16 and older in the civilian labor force in 2000, 4.5 percent of the African born reported they were unemployed, compared to 6.8 percent of the overall foreign-born population.
The African-born groups most likely to be unemployed were from Somalia (8.0 percent), Senegal (7.3 percent), and Sudan (7.0 percent). The African-born groups least likely to be unemployed were from South Africa (2.2 percent), Zambia (2.2 percent), and Zimbabwe (2.4 percent).
Of the employed population age 16 and older in the civilian labor force, the African born were much more likely than the foreign born in general to work in management and professional occupations as well as sales and office occupations.
Additionally, the African born were less likely to work in service, production, transportation, material moving, construction, and maintenance occupations than the foreign born in general (see Table 1).
and Foreign-Born Populations in the U.S.
Among full-time, year-round workers in 1999, the median earnings of African-born males ($35,774) were 18 percent higher than the median reported for all foreign-born males ($30,288). The African-born males with the highest in median earnings were from South Africa ($62,162), Mozambique ($50,085), and Tanzania ($47,853). Those with the lowest median earnings were from Mauritania ($21,067), Somalia ($23,159), Botswana (25,347), and Gambia ($25,598).
The median earnings of African-born women ($27,508) were 9 percent higher than those for all foreign-born women ($25,260). The African-born groups with the highest female median earnings were from Malawi ($36,736), South Africa ($35,451), Egypt ($35,434), and Mauritius ($35,089). Those with the lowest female median earnings were from Togo ($16,034), Somalia ($19,077), Cape Verde ($21,426), Gambia (21,605), and the Ivory Coast ($21,658).
Of the people for whom poverty status was determined in 1999, African-born individuals (17.3 percent) were about as likely to be in poverty as the total foreign-born (17.9 percent). The African-born groups with the lowest poverty rates were from Mauritius (5.8 percent), Mozambique (7.8 percent), and South Africa (9.1 percent). The African-born groups with the highest poverty rates were from Botswana (52.1 percent), Somalia (47.4 percent), Sudan (33.8 percent), and Togo (33.6 percent).
In 2000, 36.2 percent of African-born householders owned their homes, compared to 49.8 percent of all foreign-born householders. The African-born householders most likely to own their homes were from Mauritius (58.6 percent), South Africa (55.8 percent), and Libya (55.3 percent). The African-born householders least likely to own their homes were from Somalia (5.9 percent), Botswana (6.2 percent), and Mauritania (6.2 percent).
Note: For information on sampling error, nonsampling error, and definitions (labor force, occupations, and poverty), click here.
Gibson, Campbell and Emily Lennon (1999). "Working Paper No. 29: Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850 to 1990." U.S. Government Printing Office; Washington, DC.
U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000. "Population and Housing and Census."
U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000. "5% Public Use Microdata Sample."