After telling lawmakers in an Oval Office meeting Thursday he doesn’t want more immigration from “shithole countries,” President Trump said the U.S. should bring in more people from countries such as Norway instead.
In the history of international migration to the U.S., it was a deeply ironic statement. (Many have also called it racist, since Trump used the vulgarity to describe Haiti, El Salvador and African nations.)
About a century ago, a wave of European migration drew many Norwegians to the U.S. At the time, they faced challenges assimilating and catching up with native-born Americans.
But now that the president wants Norwegians to come on over? They’re likely too successful to bother.
Norway may have been on Trump’s mind due to his recent meeting with the country’s prime minister, who would have reason to boast of her country’s economic success. Norway has ranked at the top of the U.N.’s Human Development Index for all of this century. By all measures, it has a high quality of life.
But, interestingly enough, that’s a relatively recent development.
For the vast majority of history, including the period in the mid-to-late 1800s and early 1900s that comprised the biggest wave of immigration from what is now Norway to the United States, Norway might have been on the president’s so-called manure pile. European immigrants of that time fueled many of the same fears about immigration we see today, and politicians fought to close the nation’s borders back then — as successive waves of migrants from different European countries faced hostility upon arrival in the U.S.
Until the postwar era, Norway’s per-capita gross domestic domestic product — that is, the amount of economic activity generated per person — was about half that of the U.S., according to the Maddison Project Database, which compiles and adjusts historical economic data. For much of that time, Norway’s GDP consistently ranked in the bottom half of European countries in the data set.
During that time of intense immigration, researchers have found, Norwegians were far from the model they might appear to be today. For decades after their arrival, they struggled to adapt and lagged behind other groups.
In a 2012 paper that first came to my attention in an excellent series of tweets from Cato Institute analyst Alex Nowrasteh, economists Ran Abramitzky of Stanford University, Leah Platt Boustan (now of Princeton University) and Katherine Eriksson (now of the University of California, Davis) looked at Census data for immigrants from 16 European countries and regions between 1900 and 1920.
They found that Norwegians, based on earnings implied by their mostly rural, low-income occupations such as farming, fishing and logging, arrived in the U.S. with the lowest earning potential of any national group. Even after 30 years in the country, the authors found, Norwegians had failed to find higher-paying work and close the gap with either native earners or most other immigrants (those from Finland and Portugal were the exceptions).
By that same measure, even second-generation Norwegian immigrants (black bars) had failed to assimilate and move into higher-paying occupations.
In the current era, Norwegian-Americans are doing well. But perhaps not as well as Norwegian-Norwegians who, with a boost from their careful stewardship of natural wealth such as North Sea crude and hydropower, enjoy high levels of income and health status, and other scores of quality of life.
Remember how their GDP, adjusted for population, use to be half that of the U.S.? Now the chart has almost flipped.
Norwegians have it so well today that, the president’s entreaties aside, they don’t even bother coming to America any more. Based on the most recent detailed numbers available from the Census Bureau, which tracks migrants from more than 100 countries, Norwegian-born people today are the third smallest group of resident immigrants in the U.S. in raw-number terms.
Many countries above it on the list are smaller in terms of population. The only two below it on the list are Latvia, which has about a third of Norway’s population of 5.3 million, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which is nearly 50 times smaller.
According to a tweet from Statistics Norway (via Reuters), just 502 Norwegians moved to the U.S. in 2016, down 59 from the year before. An entire generation of Norwegians have, through their immigration decisions, made it clear where they prefer to live.