Animation: Visualizing Two Centuries of U.S. Immigration
America is a nation of immigrants, and though the country has seen a lot of new arrivals over the past two centuries, the rate of immigration has been far from steady.
War, famine, economic boom and bust, religious persecution, and government intervention have all caused wild swings in the rate of immigration from countries around the world.
Today’s striking animation, by Max Galka, is a great way to see changes in immigration over time. Inflows from specific countries rise and fall, and the top three countries of origin change numerous times over the years.
Below, is another way to look at the ebb and flow of American immigration since the early 1800s.
An important note. This data excludes forced migration (slavery) and illegal immigration.
Let’s look at the “waves” in more detail.
Wave one: The Old Immigration
From 1820 to 1870, over 7.5 million immigrants made their way over to the United States, effectively doubling the young country’s population in only half a decade.
Ireland, which was in the throes of the Potato Famine, saw half its population set sail for the U.S. during that time. This wave of immigration can still be seen in today’s demographics. There are now more Irish-Americans than there are Irish nationals.
The magnetic pull of the New World was profoundly felt in Germany as well. Growing public unrest in the region, caused by heavy taxation and political censorship, culminated in the German revolutions of 1848-49. Faced with severe hardship at home, millions of Germans made their way to America over the 1800s. It’s estimated that one-third of the total ethnic German population in the world now lives in the United States.
Wave Two: Gold Rush
Much of America’s early immigration was from various points in Europe, but there was one prominent exception: China.
The discovery of gold in California inspired Chinese workers to seek their fortune in America. After a crop failure in Southern China in 1852, tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants flooded into San Francisco.
Although the State of California was making millions of dollars off its Foreign Miners Tax, sentiment towards Chinese workers began to sour. Gold mines were being tapped out and white Californians blamed the Chinese for driving wages down.
Chinamen are getting to be altogether too plentiful in this country.
– John Bigler, Governor of California (1852-1856)
By 1882, the newly enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act had a chilling effect on Chinese immigration. The Exclusion Act has the dubious distinction of being the only American law barring a specific group from immigrating to the United States.
Wave Three: The New Immigration
The wave of immigration leading into the 20th century is referred to as The New Immigration.
In 1890, Ellis Island was designated as the main point of entry for newcomers entering the United States. In 1907 alone, Ellis Island processed a staggering 1,285,349 immigrants. To put this number in perspective, if all of those people settled in one place, they would’ve formed America’s fourth largest city almost overnight.
This massive influx of people into New York had profound implications on the city itself. In 1910, Manhattan’s population density was an astronomical 101,548 humans per square mile.
The immigrants arriving during this period – heavily represented by Italians, Hungarians, and Russians – were seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity. Certain industries, such as steel, meat-packing, and mining, were staffed by many new arrivals to the country.
During this time, one in four American workers were foreign-born.
The Great Depression
The National Origins Act’s quota system, which took effect in 1929, essentially slammed the door on most immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. Shortly after, the Great Depression further put a damper on immigration that would last well into the 20th century.
Wave Four: Mexico
After decades of sluggish immigration, the United States’ percentage of foreign-born citizens reached a low of 4.7% in 1970. But that was all about to change.
During the next decade, the number of states where Mexico was the top country of origin doubled in a single decade, and Mexicans became the dominant foreign-born population in the country. This migration was fueled by the Latin American debt crisis and later by NAFTA. The influx of cheap corn into Mexico caused hundreds of thousands of Mexicans from rural areas to search for more favorable economic opportunities. America was the obvious choice, particularly during the economic expansion of the 1990s.
This wave of immigration has shifted the country’s demographics considerably. Today, nearly one in five people in the United States are Hispanic.
Immigration trends are continually evolving, and America’s newest immigrants are often more likely to come from China or India. In fact, both countries surpassed Mexico as countries of origin for immigrants arriving in the U.S. in 2013. Today, the trend is even more pronounced.
Recent immigration numbers indicate that Asian immigrants will continue to shift America’s demographics in a new direction. Perhaps a new wave in the making?
Ranked: The 100 Most Spoken Languages Around the World
This detailed visualization breaks down the 100 most spoken languages around the world, by total and native speakers. Can you find yours on the list?
Ranked: The 100 Most Spoken Languages Worldwide
Even though you’re reading this article in English, there’s a good chance it might not be your mother tongue. Of the billion-strong English speakers in the world, only 33% consider it their native language.
The popularity of a language depends greatly on utility and geographic location. Additionally, how we measure the spread of world languages can vary greatly depending on whether you look at total speakers or native speakers.
Today’s detailed visualization from WordTips illustrates the 100 most spoken languages in the world, the number of native speakers for each language, and the origin tree that each language has branched out from.
How Do You Define A Language?
The data comes from the 22nd edition of Ethnologue, a database covering a majority of the world’s population, detailing approximately 7,111 living languages in existence today.
The definitions of languages are often dynamic, blurring the lines around a singular understanding of what makes a language:
- Linguistic: focused on lexical and grammatical differences, or on variations within speech communities
- Social: focused on cultural or political factors, as well as heritage and identity
For the purposes of measurement, the researchers use the ISO 693-3 set of criteria, which accounts for related varieties and dialects—ensuring that linguistics are not the only factor considered in this count of languages.
Here are the language origins of the 100 most spoken languages:
Indo-European languages have the widest spread worldwide. According to Ethnologue, the language family contains over 3 billion speakers in total. Interestingly, there are actually 1,526 Niger-Congo languages altogether, though only 12 are represented here.
Let’s now dive into the top 10 most spoken languages overall.
Which Languages Have the Most Speakers?
It comes as no surprise that English reigns supreme, with over 1.1 billion total speakers—or roughly 15% of the global population. Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, and French round out the top five.
|Rank||Language||Total Speakers||Language Origin|
|2||Mandarin Chinese||1,117 million||Sino-Tibetan|
|6||Standard Arabic||274 million||Afro-Asiatic|
However, this is only one piece in the full fabric of languages.
The metrics for native speakers tell a slightly different tale, as Mandarin Chinese shoots up to 918 million—almost 2.5x that of English native speakers.
|Rank||Language||Native Speakers||Language Origin|
|1||Mandarin Chinese||918 million||Sino-Tibetan|
|9||Western Punjabi||93 million||Indo-European|
Note: No native speaker data was available for Filipino, Standard Arabic, Nigerian Pidgin, or Cameroonian Pidgin.
Here, Spanish comes in strong second for native speakers with 460 million, considering it’s well-used across Latin America. The Indian languages of Hindi and Bengali cap off the top five by native speakers as well.
These are the biggest languages people learn growing up, but what about the ones they pick up later in life?
What About Second (L2) Languages?
Nearly 43% of the world’s population is bilingual, with the ability to switch between two languages with ease.
From the data, second language (L2) speakers can be calculated by looking at the difference between native and total speakers, as a proportion of the total. For example, 66% of English speakers learned it as a second language.
Swahili surprisingly has the highest ratio of L2 speakers to total speakers—although it only has 16 million native speakers, this shoots up to 98 million total speakers. Overall, 82% of Swahili speakers know it as a second language.
Swahili is listed as a national or official language in several African countries: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s likely that the movement of people from rural areas into big cities in search of better economic opportunities, is what’s boosting the adoption of Swahili as a second language.
Indonesian is another similar example. With a 78% proportion of L2 speakers compared to total speakers, this variation on the Malay language has been used as the lingua franca across the islands for a long time. In contrast, only 17% of Mandarin speakers know it as a second language, perhaps because it is one of the most challenging languages to learn.
Keeping Language Traditions Alive
Languages are fluid, and constantly evolving—altogether, the 100 most spoken languages paint a unique picture across centuries of a changing world. Here’s the full list of these languages, by types of speakers and language origin.
|Rank||Language||Total Speakers||Native Speakers||Origin|
|26||Egyptian Spoken Arabic||65M||65M||Afro-Asiatic|
|33||Southern Min Chinese||50M||50M||Sino-Tibetan|
|45||Moroccan Spoken Arabic||33M||27M||Afro-Asiatic|
|48||Algerian Spoken Arabic||32M||29M||Afro-Asiatic|
|49||Sudanese Spoken Arabic||32M||32M||Afro-Asiatic|
|56||North Levantine Spoken Arabic||25M||25M||Afro-Asiatic|
|61||Sa'idi Spoken Arabic||22M||22M||Afro-Asiatic|
|74||Mesopotamian Spoken Arabic||16M||16M||Afro-Asiatic|
|78||Hijazi Spoken Arabic||15M||15M||Afro-Asiatic|
|98||South Levantine Spoken Arabic||12M||12M||Afro-Asiatic|
|99||Tunisian Spoken Arabic||12M||12M||Afro-Asiatic|
|100||Sanaani Spoken Arabic||11M||11M||Afro-Asiatic|
One reason these languages are popular is that they are actively and consistently used. Unfortunately, nearly 3,000 (about 40%) of all languages are at risk of being lost, or are already in the process of dying out today.
Languages play a crucial role in our daily lives. … [Their] losses have huge negative impacts indigenous peoples’ most basic human rights.
—UN, IYoIL statement
As a result, the United Nations declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYoIL), with a resolution to continue fostering these languages and pass on their knowledge for future generations.
Mapped: The Ins and Outs of Remittance Flows
Every year, migrant workers send billions of dollars back to their home countries—reaching $550 billion in 2019. Where do these remittance flows wind up?
Mapped: The Ins and Outs of Remittance Flows
The global immigrant population is growing at a robust pace, and their aggregate force is one to be reckoned with. In 2019, migrants collectively sent $550.5 billion in money back to their home countries—money transfer flows that are also known as remittances.
Remittances serve as an economic lifeline around the world, particularly for low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Today’s visualization relies on the latest data from the World Bank to create a snapshot of these global remittance flows.
Where do most of these remittances come from, and which countries are the biggest recipients?
Remittances: An Origin Story
Remittances are a type of capital flow, with significant impacts on the places they wind up. These money transfers have surpassed official aid being sent to LMICs for decades, and in this day and age, are rivaling even Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows.
Remittance flows mainly help improve basic living standards such as housing, healthcare, and education, with leftover funds going towards other parts of the economy. They can also be a means for increasing the social mobility of family and friends back home.
Altogether, 50% of remittances are sent in either U.S. dollars, or the closely-linked currencies of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, such as the Saudi riyal. It’s not surprising then, that the U.S. is the biggest origin country of remittances, contributing $68.5 billion in 2018—more than double that of the next-highest country, Saudi Arabia, at $33.6 billion.
Remittance Flows As A Safety Net
The impact of remittances on LMICs can vary depending on what you measure. In absolute terms, the top 10 LMIC recipients received $350 billion, or nearly 64% of total remittances in 2019.
Top Remittance Recipients in 2019 (USD)
|Rank||Country||Remittance Inflows||% of Nominal GDP|
India tops the chart as the largest remittances beneficiary, followed by China and Mexico. Interestingly, these three countries are also the main destinations of remittance flows from the U.S., but in the reverse order. Mexico and the U.S. have one of the most interconnected remittance corridors in the world.
However, the chart above makes it clear that simply counting the dollars is only one part of the picture. Despite these multi-billion dollar numbers, remittances are equal to only a fraction of these economies.
By looking at remittances as a percentage of nominal GDP, it’s clear that they can have an outsize impact on nations, even if the overall value of flows are much lower in comparison.
Top Remittance Recipients in 2019 (% of GDP)
|Rank||Country||Remittance Inflows||% of Nominal GDP|
|#5||🇰🇬 Kyrgyz Republic||$2.4B||29.6%|
|#7||🇸🇻 El Salvador||$5.6B||20.8%|
|#10||🇵🇸 West Bank and Gaza||$2.6B||17.6%|
It’s clear that the cash influxes provided by remittances are crucial to many smaller countries. Take the Polynesian archipelago of Tonga, for example: even though it only saw $190 million in remittances from abroad, that amount accounts for nearly 40% of the country’s nominal GDP.
Will The Remittance Tides Turn?
The World Bank projects remittance flows to increase to nearly $600 billion by 2021. But are such projections of future remittance flows reliable? The researchers offer two reasons why remittances may ebb and flow.
On one hand, anti-immigration sentiment across major economies could complicate this growth, as evidenced by Brexit. The good news? That doesn’t stop immigration itself from taking place. Instead, where these migrants and their money end up, are constantly in flux.
This means that as immigration steadily grows, so will remittance flows. What’s more, fintech innovations have the potential to bolster this progress, by making money transfers cheaper and easier to access.
Tackling [high transaction costs] is crucial not only for economic and social development, but also for improving financial inclusion.
—UN ESCAP, Oct 2019
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