January 15, 2021

New data released on the First Wave of immigrants from Ukraine to the United States


The following article is the second part of a two-part series.  Part 1, which was published in the previous issue of The Ukrainian Weekly, addressed the timing, place of birth and mother tongue of Ukrainian immigrants to the United States, as well as their distribution within the U.S. Part 2 addresses Ukrainian immigrants’ characteristics, such as age and sex, education (literacy), knowledge of English, family structure, employment status, class of worker, occupation and homeownership.


Part 2

The first part of this article presented new results about the First Wave of immigrants from Ukraine to the United States.  These results were based on recently released census data for 1910, 1920 and 1930.  Immigrants from Ukraine were defined using two different criteria: “place of birth” and “mother tongue.”  According to these two criteria, large fluctuations in immigrants’ totals prevent us from using these data to estimate the number of immigrants in the First Wave.  The data were useful for analyzing the immigrant’s evolution of their ethnocultural identity and their distributions by state and metropolitan area.

Using this census data, a detailed demographic and socioeconomic profile of these immigrants can be created with the following components: a) demographic: age, sex and marital status; b) integration into American society: ability to speak English, citizenship and homeownership; c) household and family structure; d) socioeconomic characteristics: literacy, labor force status, class of worker; e) and detailed analysis of occupation.

The number of immigrants defined by place of birth – Galicia or Ukraine – in 1920 was chosen as the basis for the demographic and socio-economical profile.  This definition yields the largest number of immigrants (Table 1 in part 1 of this article) and includes a representative set of mother tongues (Table 2 in part 1).  Although this definition does not include all immigrants from Ukraine, the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics are similar to those of all immigrants from Ukraine.

Immigrants have a relatively high percentage of children less than five years old (14 percent) and a very small percentage of people age 65 or older (2 percent). The high percent of children age 0-4 is due to the high fertility in the immigrant’s country of origin, especially in rural areas.  As in many immigrant groups, the highest percentage is found in the working-age group (25-44), i.e., 36 percent. There are also more men than women among these immigrants, 53 and 47 percent, respectively.

Five marital status categories are presented in the census: married, spouse present; married, spouse not present; divorced; widowed; and never married/single.  Sixty-nine percent of all immigrants are married with spouse present, followed by 18 percent single, eight percent married with spouse absent and four percent widowed.  Less than half of one percent are divorced, with twice as many men as women.  There are also twice as many single men as women and half as many widowers as widows. Men are much more prevalent in the category married with spouse absent, as it is usually the man of the house who migrates first.

The measure for level of education is rather crude in the 1920 census. It consists of questions asking whether the person can read and/or write.  Many immigrants answered that they are literate (can read and write): 79 percent males and 72 percent females.

As pointed out by researchers of this wave, immigrants strived to become integrated into American society.  A high percentage of them claim to speak English – 70 percent of males and 75 percent of females – but there is no information about their level of proficiency.  Nineteen percent of the immigrants are naturalized citizens and 14 percent started the process of naturalization.  These high percentages are the result of continuous efforts to become members of American society: a) the percent of English-speakers increases with time of residence; b) percent with citizenship is strongly related to the duration of residence in the U.S.

Another measure of integration is homeownership.  As expected, the percent of people who are homeowners among immigrants is below the national level of 23 and 46 percent, respectively.  However, if we consider the duration of residence in the U.S., homeownership among immigrants with 35 years of residency is equal to the national level. Immigrants who speak English or who are literate have higher homeownership than non-English speakers and illiterate immigrants.

The 181,300 immigrants born in Galicia or Ukraine are members of 67,200 households, classified into seven types. Table 6 presents the absolute and relative sizes of these types.  Most of the households, 89 percent, are of the married-couple family type.  Two other important types are male householder, no wife present (two percent) and female householder, no husband present (six percent).  There are few households in the other four types; they are either one-person households or one person living with one or more non-family members.

Table 7 presents some characteristics of the three main household types.  Married-couple family households have, on average, five persons.  Only 10 percent of these households have no children.  More than half have at least three children and two-thirds of these households have children who are less than five years old.

There are significant differences between households with male and female householders, where the spouse is absent. Male-headed households are, on average, somewhat smaller than female-headed households.  Many more male- than female-headed households with spouses not present have no children – 20 percent and two percent, respectively. Fewer male-headed than female-headed households have three or more children and fewer children are less than five years old.

The labor force status of immigrants was also analyzed.  Male immigrants have very high labor force participation, above 90 percent, compared to 78 percent for the total U.S. male population.  On the other hand, Ukrainian female immigrants have labor force participation similar to the entire U.S. female population, about 22 percent.

Female labor force participation is related, in general, to the number and age of children in the household.  Only eighteen percent of females in married-couple family households, with many children and many of them less than five years old, are in the labor force.  In the male householder, no wife present household type, with fewer children and fewer of them less than five years old, 50 percent of females in the household are in the labor force.  In other words, the presence of many children restricts female labor force participation.

This relationship does not hold for females in the female householder, no husband present household type.  Although these households tend to have many children who are less than five years old, 53 percent of females in these households are in the labor force.  The absence of the husband forces more women to work to support the family.

Most of the immigrants, 90 percent, are wage earners. Only three percent are employers and seven percent are independent workers.  All employers are male and more males than females work independently – eight and five percent, respectively.

All censuses have a very detailed list of occupations.  Presented here are only a fraction of what can be understood about the occupations of the immigrants. Table 8 shows the distribution of immigrants in the labor force by 11 occupational categories and by sex.  It provides a global picture of the position of the immigrants in the occupational hierarchy.

The very high percentages of immigrants in the laborer and operatives categories, as well as the very low percentage in the professional and technical categories, is consistent with a wave of immigrants characterized by high levels of illiteracy and no knowledge of the English language.  However, occupations in categories like managers or salesmen require some level of literacy and knowledge of English.  The number of immigrants with occupations in these categories is an indicator of their efforts to take advantage of the new country’s opportunities.

The two top occupation categories for males are laborers and operatives.  The laborer category lists few specific occupations.  It consists mostly of the generic term laborer, as immigrants did not provide more detail in their census responses.  The category operatives contain more specialized occupations like mine-operatives and laborers, workers in the textile industry, dyers, meat cutters, truck and taxi drivers, etc. The five percent of males with occupations in the managers and proprietors category is an indicator of success for an immigrant group that had to start at the bottom of the occupational scale.

The top occupation category for females is operatives, not laborers, as in the case for males.  These occupations in the operatives category require, in general, more skills than occupations in the laborers category.  The categories service workers (not household) and service workers (private household) are in third place, accounting for 14 percent of all female occupations.  Another important category is non-occupational response, which accounts for five percent.  It includes occupations like home housekeepers, students and retired persons.

The occupation data’s detail is illustrated by the top 14 professional occupations for males and females (Table 9).  The highest number among professional occupations is teachers, 235, and they are almost evenly split between males and females.  They are followed clergy at 112.  There are also physicians, dentists, lawyers and judges, pharmacists and accountants and auditors, which are all professions that require university-level degrees.  Except for teachers and professional nurses, there are many more men than women in all professions.

Table 10 shows the 112 clergy by mother tongue and state of residence.  Only 22 clergy have Ukrainian (or Ruthenian) mother tongue.  This does not mean that they are the only Ukrainian clergy. Some of the clergy with Russian, Polish or other mother tongues may also be Ukrainian, but from other religions like Orthodox, Roman Catholic or Protestant. Also, the definition used – immigrants born in Galicia or Ukraine – is quite restrictive. Some Ukrainian clergy may have stated other places of birth, such as Austria, Hungary, Poland or Russia. This analysis can be expanded to include cross-tabulations by year of immigration, age, marital status, family type, and the number of children (if married).

According to the 1920 census, seven of the 22 clergy with Ukrainian mother tongue resided in Pennsylvania, five in New York, four in New Jersey and two in Ohio.  Four other States have one clergy each. As mentioned, one can expand this analysis by adding more variables and get a more complete profile of these clergy. It would also be useful to compare these data with the records of the two main churches in Ukraine at that time, Greek Catholic and Orthodox, and other religions.

The availability of data from 1920 and other censuses provides a unique opportunity for increasing the level of knowledge of the first wave of immigrants from Ukraine to the U.S.  The analysis presented here provides only a small fraction of the topics that can be addressed with these data.  We invite historians, demographers and other scholars interested in this topic to contact us about getting copies of these data and technical assistance in their use.


Oleh Wolowyna is Director of the Center for Demographic and Socio-economic Research of Ukrainians in the U.S. at the Shevchenko Scientific Society, and research fellow at the Center for Slavic, Eurasian and Eastern European Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He can be reached via email at olehw@aol.com.