Population Research and Policy Review 16: 61–93, 1997.
1997 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
The size and distribution of the American Indian population:
Fertility, mortality, migration, and residence
C. MATTHEW SNIPP
Department of Sociology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA
Abstract. This paper is a descriptive analysis of the basic demographic characteristics that
determine the size and distribution of the American Indian population. The data reported
are obtained from the 1990 Census, the National Center for Health Statistics, and the Indian
Health Service. Among the ﬁndings reported in this paper is that American Indians have higher
levels of fertility than other groups, especially whites. Mortality due to accidents, diabetes,
and alcohol-related illness is especially high for American Indians. And despite relatively high
levels of residential mobility, the distribution of the American Indian population has been
relatively stable since 1970.
Key words: American Indians, Fertility, Migration, Minorities, Mortality
Knowledge about the size and distribution of the American Indian
lation is fundamental for understanding its demography. In particular, such
knowledge represents a logical point of departure for any effort to assess oth-
er salient characteristics of the population. This paper examines the natural
events determining the size of the American Indian population – fertility and
mortality – as well as data showing how the American Indian population is
distributed and the migration processes responsible for these patterns.
The AmericanIndianpopulationis an especially interestingand challenging
subject for demographic research. Data are often sparse and difﬁcult to locate.
An even more vexing problem is the ﬂuid boundaries of the population. Over
the past 20 years, the American Indian population has grown remarkably as
a result of the increased numbers of persons choosing to claim American
Indian as their racial identity, as opposed to some other category, such as
black or white (Passel 1976; Passel & Berman 1986; Snipp 1989; Harris
1994). Harris (1994) reports the percentages of population growth exceeding
natural increase among the American Indian population as 8.5 for 1970, 25.2
for 1980, and 9.2 for 1990. This growth in the population numbers makes
temporal comparisons difﬁcult, but it also makes such comparisons imperative