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Population. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 1990 the country
had a population of 249,632,692. Figures from the 1980 census had put
the population of the United States at 226,545,805.
Whites make up about 80 percent of the country's population. Blacks form
the largest minority group. They account for about 12 percent of the
population. About 3 percent of the population is of Asian descent.
American Indians make up about 1 percent of the population. Other
groups combine to make up the remaining 4 percent.
The U.S. population includes many Hispanic people, such as people of
Mexican, Puerto Rican, or Cuban descent. Hispanics consist mainly of
whites, but they also include some blacks and American Indians. Hispanics
make up 9 percent of the U.S. population.
About 51 percent of the people in the United States are females. The
United States has one of the highest life expectancies of any country-74.9
years old. Since 1945, the part of the U.S. population that is over 65
years old has increased from 8 percent to 12 percent. Improvements in
medical care have been the main reason for the increase. The over-65
population of the United States will continue to grow at a rapid rate as
advances in medicine continue and as the large numbers of people born
during the "baby boom" grow older. The baby boom was a period of high
birth rate that occurred in the United States from 1946 to 1964.
Approximately 92 percent of the total population was born in the United
States. The largest foreign-born groups are, in order of size, Mexicans,
Germans, Canadians, Italians, Cubans, and Filipinos. The population
density in the United States varies widely from place to place. See the
map in this section of the article for the density throughout the country.
Ancestry. The United States has one of the world's most varied
populations in terms of ancestry. The population includes descendants of
people from almost every part of the world.
The first people to live in what is now the United States were American
Indians, Inuit (also called Eskimos), and Hawaiians. The Indians and Inuit
are descended from peoples who migrated to North America from Asia
thousands of years ago. The ancestors of the Hawaiians were Polynesians
who sailed to what is now Hawaii from other Pacific islands about 2,000
years ago.
Most white Americans trace their ancestry to Europe. Some Spaniards
settled in what is now the United States during the 1500's. European
settlement increased sharply during the 1600's. At first, most of the
settlers came from England. But America soon attracted many immigrants
from other nations of northern and western Europe including France,
Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Scotland; and the Scandinavian
lands of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Until the late 1800's, northern
and western Europe provided most of the immigrants. Then, large waves
of people began arriving from southern and eastern European nations,
including Austria-Hungary, Greece, Italy, Poland, and Russia.
Most Hispanic Americans are people who immigrated-or whose ancestors
immigrated-to the United States from Latin America. A small percentage
of them trace their ancestry directly back to Spain. Some have mainly
Spanish ancestry. Others have mixed Spanish and Indian or black
Most African Americans are descendants of Africans who were brought to
the United States as slaves during the 1600's, 1700's, and 1800's and
forced to work on plantations.
Since the 1800's, the United States has attracted immigrants from Asia.
Most Asian Americans trace their ancestry to China, India, Indochina,
Japan, Korea, or the Philippines.
The United States has often been called a melting pot. This term refers to
the idea that the country is a place where people from many lands have
come together and formed a unified culture. Americans have many things
in common. For example, the vast majority of them speak English, and
people throughout the country dress similarly and eat many of the same
kinds of foods. Public education, mass communication, and other
influences have helped shape a common identity.
But in other ways, U.S. society is an example of cultural pluralism. That is,
large numbers of its people have retained features of the cultures of their
ancestors. Many Americans take special pride in their origins. They
preserve traditions-and in some cases the languages-of their ancestors. In
many cities, people of different national or ethnic origins live in separate
neighborhoods, and shops and restaurants reflect their cultural heritages.
Ethnic festivals, parades, and other events emphasize the nation's cultural
Language. The United States has never had an official language, but
English has always been the chief language spoken there. Immigrants
from the England, Scotland, and Ireland-who included the nation's
founders-spoke English. Many immigrants from other lands who spoke
little or no English also came to the United States. They learned at least
enough English to be able to communicate with other Americans. Their
children learned English in school. The immigrants' children generally
spoke both English and their ethnic language, and in many families the
immigrants' grandchildren spoke only English.
Today, Spanish is the second most common language in the United
States. The region that is now the Southwestern United States was
colonized by Spain in the 1500's. As a result, many people from that
region speak Spanish. Since the 1950's, many Spanish-speaking people
have immigrated to the United States from Mexico, Cuba, and other
places. Many of these people learned English. But others speak only
Spanish. This is especially true in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods that
developed in cities. Some people feel that special efforts should be made
to provide education and other services in Spanish for people who speak
only Spanish.
Many people believe every American should know English. They point out
that it is difficult to get a job outside Spanish-speaking neighborhoods
without a knowledge of English. They also argue that a language shared
by everyone is an important unifying force for a country. In the 1980's
and 1990's, a number of states passed laws declaring English to be their
only official language. These laws provide that the government must offer
its services in English, and need not do so in any other language. But in
some places, public documents and signs are written in both English and

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