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Census 2000 Brief: The Arab Population: 2000

Written by:
Report Number C2KBR-23

Census 2000 measured a U.S. population of 281.4 million, including 1.2 million who reported an Arab ancestry.1 Arabs were 1 of 33 ancestry groups with populations over 1 million.2 This is the first report the U.S. Census Bureau has produced on the population of Arab ancestry. In 1997, the Office of Management and Budget revised the federal standard for the classification of race and ethnicity, noting the lack of consensus about the definition of an Arab ethnic category and suggesting that further research be done in order to improve data on this population group.3 This report contributes to ongoing research about people in the United States who identify an Arab ancestry and reflects the Census Bureau’s consultation and collaboration with experts within the Arab community.

For the purposes of this report, most people with ancestries originating from Arabic-speaking countries or areas of the world are categorized as Arab. For example, a person is included in the Arab ancestry category if he or she reported being Arab, Egyptian, Iraqi, Jordanian, Lebanese, Middle Eastern, Moroccan, North African, Palestinian, Syrian, and so on. It is important to note, however, that some people from these countries may not consider themselves to be Arab, and conversely, some people who consider themselves Arab may not be included in this definition. More specifically, groups such as Kurds and Berbers who are usually not considered Arab were included in this definition for consistency with 1990 census and Census 2000 data products. In the same manner, some groups such as Mauritanian, Somalian, Djiboutian, Sudanese, and Comoros Islander who may consider themselves Arab were not included, again for consistency. (For more information, see Table 1.)

The information on ancestry was collected on the “long form” of the census questionnaire, which was sent to approximately one-sixth of all households. Item 10 on the questionnaire asked respondents to identify their ancestry or ethnic origin (see Figure 1).4 As many as two ancestries were tabulated per respondent; if either response was included in the definition of Arab used here, the person is included in this analysis. Around 19 percent of the U.S. population provided no response to the ancestry question.

Ancestry refers to ethnic origin, descent, “roots,” heritage, or place of birth of the person or of the person’s ancestors. The ancestry question was not intended to measure the degree of attachment to a particular ethnicity, but simply to establish that the respondent had a connection to and self-identified with a particular ethnic group. For example, a response of “Lebanese” might reflect involvement in a Lebanese community or only a memory of Lebanese ancestors several generations removed.

The data in this report are based solely on responses to the Census 2000 ancestry question. Questions that were positioned before the ancestry question where respondents might have indicated an Arab origin (namely race, Hispanic origin, and place of birth) were not considered.

Although religious affiliation can be a component of ethnic identity, neither the ancestry question nor any other question on the decennial census form was designed to collect information about religion. No religious information was tabulated from Census 2000. Religious responses were all reclassified as “Other groups.”

This report presents national, regional, state, county, and selected place-level information for the total Arab population, as well as additional detailed information for the three largest Arab groups: Lebanese, Syrian, and Egyptian. Smaller groups are shown only at the national level.

1 The text of this report discusses data for the United States, including the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico are shown in Table 2 and Figure 2.

2 Census 2000 Summary File 4 shows that the largest ancestry groups reported were German (42.9 million), Irish (30.5 million), and English (24.5 million). Ancestry groups similar in size to the Arab population included Greek, Czech, and Portuguese (approximately 1.2 million each).

3 Office of Management and Budget. 1997. “Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity.” Federal Register, Vol. 62, No. 210, p. 58787.

4 The term respondent is used here to refer to all individuals for whom one or more ancestries were reported, whether or not one person answered the question for all household members.

Page Last Revised - October 8, 2021
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