Does it matter where you are born?

August 1, 2017 - 12:00am -- Emilie Christy

Does it matter where you are born?
What makes a national identity — some quick stats

By Emilie Christy

What is it that forms a national identity? A common language, a common birthplace, a shared heritage? These are questions that people in countries all over the world are asking themselves today as migrations increase, and the flow of people brings others from far and wide who seek a better life, or who out of necessity or desire for safety find themselves in a new place.

In countries like the U.S. and Australia, even from their beginnings this identity has been based less on race, religion or ethnicity and more on a set of common values and a belief in individual freedom, as U.S. historian Michael Friedman writes. Canada is a little different in that the French, British and First Nations’ roots are still much more prominent despite the growing diversity in the country. This leads to, as he calls it, a “creative tension between pluralism and assimilation.” Newcomers must walk a balancing act between finding space for their traditions with ways to coexist and giving up  those same things to connect to a larger whole.

In the past, people of English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, German and Swedish backgrounds were more willing to leave behind all that existed before in order to become someone new.

In more recent times, however, Friedman has observed that newcomers have brought their distinct contribution as an enrichment to the whole rather than disappearing into the “melting pot.”

A 2016 study by Pew Research asked “what it takes to truly be ‘one of us’” and found some interesting responses. The research was conducted in 14 different countries with 14,514 respondents.

They were asked if there is a connection between someone’s birthplace and their national identity; if someone shares and participates in national customs and traditions; if someone must speak the dominant language of the country.

Nations across the globe are going through significant transitions. George Washington, in his farewell address in 1796, already alerted Americans to the inevitability of influences that will “weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth [of unity],” but nevertheless one should always “properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness.”


“It is very important to speak the dominant language.”

  • 77% European nations
  • 70% U.S.
  • 69% Australia
  • 59% Canada


“Sharing national customs and traditions.”

  • 54% Canada
  • 50% Australia
  • 48% European nations
  • 45% U.S.


“It is important to be born in this country.”

  • 32% U.S.
  • 21% Canada
  • 13% Australia
  • 13% European nations


Influential factors:

  • Age
    People ages 50 and older are twice as likely to think it’s very important for a person to be born in the country or share the national customs and traditions.


  • Education
    People with less education are more likely to agree that it is important to speak English, to be born in this country and to share the national customs and traditions.