California Citizen

Who’s Coming to California?

California Population: Then & Now

In 1900, California bore little resemblance to what it has become today, the most populous State in the Union and arguably the most dominant when it comes to defining the American experience. But the state’s population of a hundred years ago mirrors the modern California in that 25% of the population, then and now, was born outside the United States. The only difference—the countries the immigrants come from.

In 1900, 1 in 4 Californians were foreign born.
In 2000, 1 in 4 Californians were foreign born.

But what is clear from the Census data is that in 1900 the vast majority of immigrants came from Europe:

While today Central America and Asia make up the bulk. And with the exception of our neighbor Mexico, today’s immigrants overwhelming come from countries that have gone through civil wars.

However in the intervening years, the make up of the state’s population has morphed time and again. In fact, as the total the immigrant population climbed between 1970 and 1980, the foreign-born population decreased by almost 1.4 million:

Summary of statistics:

Foreign born populations in California in 1900:
Country Population
Germany 72,449
Ireland 44,476
China 40,226
United Kingdom 35,746
Canada 27,408
Italy 22,777
Sweden 14,549
France 12,256
Portugal 12,068
Japan 10,264
Scotland 9,467
Denmark 9,040
Foreign born populations in California in 2000:
Country Population
Mexico 3,928,701
Philippines 664,935
China 570,487
Vietnam 418,249
El Salvador 359,673
Korea 268,452
India 198,201
Iran 158,613
Canada 141,181
United Kingdom 133,090
Japan 112,212
Germany 98,160
Foreign Born Against Total Population in California: 1960-2010
Year Foreign Born Population Total Population
1960 3,993,726 15,717,204
1970 4,992,079 19,953,134
1980 3,580,033 23,667,902
1990 6,458,825 29,760,021
2000 8,780,519 33,871,648

Source for all statistics: U.S. Census Bureau