The Maltese in the United States

by John C. Lane

The Maltese have long been a nation of emigrants. After the end of World War II several thousands of them left the country each year. Not until 1975 did the rate of emigration drop sharply. By the 1990s it had slowed to a trickle, as the birth rate droppe d dramatically, employment opportunities expanded and immigration policies were tightened in many countries. Only six percent of the emigrants in the post-war years chose the U.S. as their destination. Whatever their destination, it is quite obvious that many overseas Maltese maintain close ties with their homeland, physically and emotionally, and the voices of expatriate Maltese on the internet testify to that.

In one Maltese internet forum the question was recently asked: "How many Maltese live in the United States?" There were speculations and estimates, mostly tending toward rather high numbers. We can go beyond the guesses and look at what the U.S. Census Bu reau discovered in the most recent (1990) census. The census data are based on voluntary replies that may not always be accurate or honest; but they are collected systematically and diligently and remain the best data we have. They can give us some reason ably "hard" information, ranging from the number of Maltese in the U.S. to the number of Maltese households that lack complete plumbing facilities. This is a brief summary of the data that can be found in the reports of the Census Bureau. The data provide a kind of collective portrait of the Maltese in the United States, albeit a portrait with a lot of subtle detail missing.

A total of 30,292 persons described themselves as being of Maltese ancestry. However, most of them (70 percent) were born in the U.S. The census data do not reveal how distant their Maltese roots are. But no matter how long ago their ancestors reached the se shores, they obviously chose to identify themselves as being of Maltese origin. (There are many examples of fairly attenuated ancestry claims in the census data: For instance, only 806,000 persons were immigrants from Germany but some 45 million person s claimed German "ancestry" of some kind; maybe still having the family name Schmidt seemed sufficient...)

Those of Maltese ancestry who were not born in the U.S. -- and presumably born in Malta -- totaled a mere 9,217; that is about as many people as live in Zurrieq or Paola and they make up only 0.0037% of the total population of the United States. The vast majority of them (88.2%) arrived before 1980 and an undetermined number of them reside in the U.S. only temporarily. Two-thirds of these Maltese immigrants had become U.S. citizens by 1990, in notable contrast to the 40.5 percent rate for other immigrant groups.

Looking at those 30,292 persons who are self-described Maltese regardless of their place of birth, it turns out that in many respects they are remarkably similar to the U.S. population as a whole. Some examples of these similarities are that 50.8% live in households of 2 or 3 persons (as do 49.3% of other Americans); three-quarters have completed at least a high school education (75.2% versus 76.3%); their median age is 32.7 compared to 33.0 for the whole country; in almost 60% of the working families, tw o or more persons hold jobs outside the home and in only 28% of the households is there a single "bread winner" in the family (compared to a 28.9% average in the rest of the country). In all these respects, then, they barely differ from the rest of the U. S. population.

In some other areas, there are differences worth noting between the Maltese and the country's population as a whole, although none of the differences are particularly dramatic. For example: Maltese adults were less likely to be divorced (6.0% versus 8.3%) ; their birth rate was slightly higher (210 children born per 100 women, compared to 196 overall); their per capita income was higher ($17,184 versus $14,420); their unemployment rate was 3.9% compared to 6.3% for the nation; among the adults, 5.4% had an advanced educational degree while the national figure was 7.2%.

Also, the Maltese tended more to be in paid and salaried jobs in the private sector (83.1% versus 77.4%) rather than to be self-employed (5.7% compared to the national figure of 7.0%). Some six percent do not speak English "very well" compared to nine per cent of the general population. Most Americans have left farming as an occupation: 2.5% are engaged in farming, forestry and fishing, but only a minuscule 0.5% (78 persons) of the Maltese pursue such work. The Maltese in the U.S. are different from the re st of the population in one more way -- the men outnumber the women (104.3 to 100, compared to a sex ratio of 95 to 100 nationally).

On the whole, it thus appears, the Maltese population in the U.S. is very similar to the rest of the American population in major demographic categories. Whether it is by virtue of their nature or their numbers, they do not stand out from the rest of the U.S. population in life styles or attainments, wealth or poverty, fame or notoriety. Oh, what about their plumbing facilities? Well, the Census Bureau reports that only 0.3% of the Maltese households in the U.S. report that they are "lacking complete plu mbing facilities" whereas across the nation this problem besets 0.8% of the population...

psclane@ubvms.cc.buffalo.edu or johnlane@moran.com