E.g., 09/30/2014
E.g., 09/30/2014

Characteristics of the African Born in the United States

Adjust Font    |    Print    |    RSS    |    Reprint Permission

Characteristics of the African Born in the United States

Source Spotlights are often updated as new data become available. Please click here to find the most recent version of this Spotlight.

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.

View Map (pdf)

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.

Back to the top


The number of African born increased 142 percent between 1990 and 2000.

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.


Figure 1. Number of African Born in the United States: 1980-2000
Note: Africa n.e.c (not elsewhere classified).
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 and Gibson, Campbell and Emily Lennon, U.S. Census Bureau, Working Paper No. 29, "Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population in the United States: 1850 to 1990."


Back to the top

Regions of Africa
Eastern Africa includes British Indian Ocean Territory, Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Europa Island, Glorioso Islands, Juan de Nova Island, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mayotte, Mozambique, Reunion Rwanda, Mauritius, Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania, Tromelin Island, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Middle Africa includes Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Sao Tome & Principe, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire).

Northern Africa includes Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara.

Southern Africa includes Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland.

Western Africa includes Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, St Helena, and Togo.

Note: Regions are defined by the United States Census Bureau.

 

Immigrants born in Western African countries accounted for most of the increase in the numbers of African born between 1990 and 2000.

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).

Back to the top


Western Africans made up the largest proportion of the African born, followed by those from Eastern, Northern, Southern, and Middle Africa.

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.

Back to the top


More than half of the African born living in the U.S. arrived between 1990 and 2000.

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.

Back to the top


Nigeria, Egypt, and Ethiopia accounted for the largest number of arrivals between 1990 and 2000.

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).

Back to the top


The African-born groups with the largest percentage of recent migrants were from Angola, Somalia, and Mauritania.

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.

Back to the top


The African born were less likely to be citizens than the foreign-born population in general.

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.

Back to the top


The African born are slightly younger than the foreign born generally.

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).

Back to the top


Men make up a larger proportion of the African born than do women.

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).

Back to the top


Four of every five African born spoke a language other than English at home.

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..

Back to the top


The majority of the African born who spoke a language other than English at home spoke English "very well."

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).

Back to the top


Nearly nine in every 10 African born had a high school or higher degree.

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.

Back to the top


More than two in every five of the African born had a college 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).

Back to the top


The African born were more likely to participate in the labor force than the overall foreign-born population.

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).

Back to the top


The African born were less likely to be unemployed than the foreign born in general.

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).

Back to the top


The African born were concentrated in management or professional and sales or office-related occupations.

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).


Table 1. Occupational Comparison of the African-Born
and Foreign-Born Populations in the U.S.
Occupation
Foreign born
African born
Number
Percent
Number
Percent
Employed civilian population age 16 and older
16,073,543
100.0
529,305
100.0
Management, professional, and related occupations
4,574,120
28.4
213,485
40.3
Service occupations
3,214,315
20.0
98,850
18.7
Sales and office occupations
3,208,310
19.9
123,605
23.4
Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations
328,620
2.0
605
0.1
Construction, extraction, and maintenance occupations
1,677,340
10.4
18,770
3.5
Production, transportation, and material moving occupations
3,080,970
19.2
73,985
14.0
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000. Foreign-born figures are from 5 percent PUMS, and figures for African born are from Foreign-Born Profiles, STP-159


Back to the top


African-born men and women had higher median earnings than all foreign-born men and women 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).

Back to the top


One in every five African-born individuals lived in poverty in 1999.

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).

Back to the top


About a third of African-born householders owned their own home.

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.

Sources

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."