Where are celebrities from? New York Yankees and Hollywood Anglos

In a new paper with my esteemed colleague Eric Kaufmann, we used a crowdsourced dataset from Ethnicelebs.com to study, among other things, when and where American celebrities from diverse backgrounds anglicise their names to adhere to a WASP ideal. For example, action-movie actor of Catholic Lithuanian heritage Charles Dennis Buchinsky changed his surname to Bronson not to sound Russian. After some data cleaning, the user-generated database from Ethnicelebs provided ethnicity and family information about 9,000 artists, musicians, athletes, and writers, including 2,281 American screen actors.

Where are actors born?

As part of the study, we looked at birthplaces that are over- and under-represented among these celebrities. In this map, we show the top birthplaces of American actors born after 1980 (apologies to Alaska and Hawaii, which did not make it to the top 30). For example, the population of Los Angeles (metro area) includes about 4% of the US population, while 22% of actors in our dataset were born there (very large over-representation):

Ballatore_Kaufmann-2019-Where_are_actors_born

The motion picture industry is indeed centred in Los Angeles and New York. As a disproportionately high number of actors born after 1980 were born in those two centres, we argue that:

[w]ebsites which advise on acting careers urge actors to move to these cities in order to find work and tap into professional networks. Those from these cities, or whose parents live in them, are likely to have informational, social and cost advantages over others. As a result, eighteen per cent of American actors born after 1900 were born in New York City and ten per cent in Los Angeles. … The two cities represent nearly thirty per cent of all actors and their metro areas account for a third. … Among American actors born prior to 1945, thirty per cent were born in the greater New York area and six per cent in metro Los Angeles. For the post- 1980 cohort, fifteen per cent were born in the New York area and twenty per cent in metro LA: it has a 460 per cent over-representation among celebrities born after 1980. … Despite a marked shift to the South and West in birthplaces over the twentieth century, no cities outside LA, New York and Chicago produce more than a handful of stars” (p. 11). [Read paper]

Abstract: Ideal types have received less attention than membership criteria in the ethnicity and nationalism literature. This article uses crowdsourced genealogical data and onomastics software to show that British Isles surnames and ancestry remain over‐represented among American actors, especially in roles connected with the national narrative. Conformity to the WASP ideal type persists despite the fact American actors are disproportionately born in Los Angeles, New York, and other large cities, where British ancestry is rare. Jewish actors are over‐represented, yet many have Anglo surnames. Compared to athletes and politicians, actors are significantly more likely to have Anglo surnames, especially those in genres depicting the nation. After declining among cohorts of stars born between the 1800s and 1961, the share of British Isles surnames has stabilised and remains in the majority. We argue that despite rising diversity, this reflects the continuing importance of the Anglo‐Protestant ethnic imago for American national identity.

Keywords: America, Anglo‐Saxon, ethnosymbolism, immigration, migration, user-generated content, crowdsourcing

Publication: E. Kaufmann & A. Ballatore (2019) New York Yankees and Hollywood Anglos: The persistence of Anglo‐conformity in the American motion picture industry, Nations and Nationalism. [journal] [read full article in PDF]