The Norwegian migration to America and psychological selection

Norwegian psychiatrist Ørnulf Ødegaard has studied personality types.  He has shown that relatively more Norwegian-born persons in Minnesota suffered from mental illness, especially schizophrenia,in the 1920s than did members of Norway’s population.  He maintained that the greater frequency of illness might be due in some degree to the greater strains the emigrants were exposed to in a foreign society, but he also held that people who were disposed to this illness were more restless and found it easier than other personality types to break out of their environment.

That is from Ingrid Semmingsen, Norway to America: A History of the Migration, and I believe the original reference is to ” Immigration and Insanity: A Study of Mental Disease Among the Norwegian-born Population of Minnesota,” Ø Ødegaard – Acta psychiatrica Scandinavica, Suppl, 1932.”  Here is a related post on gene-culture interaction.


Off topic: how does one pronounce the "Ø" in "Ørnulf" and "Ødegaard"?

A bit like the "eu" is the French "bleu".

Just think of a sketch where Monty Python is guying Swedish dentists.

Interesting, but without data on relative rates of mental illness how can we judge whether this is a significant finding or just statistical noise? Afterall if you sample disparate populations you are bound to find some differences if only by chance. And what about different diagnoses techniques? After all ,as is well known, classification of mental illnesses is purely a matter of opinion and possibly US doctors are trained different to Norwegians, almost certainly back in the beginning of the last century diagnoses techniques were certainly not as codified as today.

I think have proof of Minnesota mass mental illness. They sent Al Franken to the US Senate. Or else. It's because they live on the same planet as Obama.

Ha ha! Take THAT Democrats!

I apologize. Gloating is both a sin of pride and uncharitable.

Why apologize? After destroying the country, they deserve it. We can only hope it's not too late for Trump to save us.


Interesting and provocative. In our history, the American West and manifest destiny offered an outlet for people who didn't fit or perhaps who were itchy/ambitious/autistic. Our last hinterland, Alaska, is an odd (but not necessarily bad) place. It attracted gold miners at the turn of the 19th century and still offers 14-days-on, 10-days-off employment for young men working the oil pipeline. Given all this and the near-constant winter dark, Anchorage has a constant evening social life and also a very idiosyncratic population. Wish some of our native anthropologists were as curious as the Norwegian ones.

Also, just read "Main Street," the Sinclair Lewis novel of the century, ca. 1927. In its small upper midwest community, Swedish immigrants were treated with disdain as uncouth and not nice enough to be invited into nice people's homes. If Norwegian immigrants got the same treatment, that might have had an effect on their community participation and, with it, their mental health.

We Norwegians still feel some disdain for Swedes, so it is understandable to us that the midwesterners felt the same. On the surface, there are the swedish jokes and good natured ribbing, but deeper down we question their neutrality in WW2, how they benefited from being the servants of the Germans.

And Swedes tend view Norwegians with some suspicion, lefse consumption and talking like Danes is and always will be suspect, not to mention talking too much. However very few non Nordics, even those who live among them, have ever been able to distinguish between Norwegian and Swede, Heck they usually confuse both with Danes, and have trouble even recognizing Finns.

In the old days many a Norwegian American complained about being called a "Dumb Swede", but their complaints have universally been ignored.

Norwegians are still proud of the fact that one of their own was the likely killer of Swedish megalomaniac Karl XII in 1718.

Didn't know about that one! We are somewhat proud that simply flexing muscle in 1904/05 cause Sweden to back of and let us out of the union peacefully.

In preparations, we made our own military rifle caliber a bit bigger than the Swedes', for the purpose of allowing us to use their ammunition in our rifles, but our bullet would get stuck in the barrels of their rifles, and hopefully waste the shooter.

This guy looks seriously creepy at the third autopsy after 199 years:

Were Lutherans discriminated against the way Catholics were?

Ole Edvart Rolvaag’s excellent novel of the Norwegian immigrant experience, Giants in the Earth, goes a very long way in explaining the traumatic hardships faced by these amazing people who persevered and prospered in the face of unparalleled challenges. Truly a great novel.

My distant relatives from Minnesota recommended this book, and I found it in a used book store. I did enjoy the somewhat archaic English, peppered with words like womenfolk (kvinnfolk) and so on, but not the lame words like hygge that the NPR crowd is trying to popularize.

Those that homesteaded North Dakota were in for a rough ride.

The Icelandic(*) element of my background went to the Dakota Territories, lasted 2 years, and then sensibly lit out for Vancouver.

* - Norwegians once removed if DNA is to believed, and talk about a filter function! Willing to cross the North Atlantic in an open boat.

Don't need DNA, enough with the relatively short written histories of Iceland and Norway. However the DNA might quantify the abundance of Irish or British mitochondrial DNA. Don't know if those wenches were abducted, or went voluntarily.

We were fun, and knew how to party.

Of course those risk taking genes didn't mix to well with international banking ..

Immigration has a known association with schizophrenia. In the introduction to the 1880 US census it says "the extraordinary ratio of insanity among the foreign born has attracted wide attention" (Locke et al (1960). Immigration and insanity).

The main cause is currently thought to be social stressors, rather than selection.

"According to one hypothesis, the chronic experience of social defeat disturbs dopamine function in the brain."

"A personal or family history of migration is a high risk factor for schizophrenia and there is now strong evidence against selective migration as the explanation. There is an increasing interest in the impact of social stressors on brain functioning and on the pathogenesis of schizophrenia." (Selten et al. (2007) Migration and schizophrenia).

It may also be an infection - the assumption is that people are used to the biohazards in their own region but moving somewhere else exposes them to new ones which cause problems.

I look forward to Trump adopting both ideas for his immigration policies - not only is it unfair to expose people from delightful completely functional human-resource-rich societies to the harsh racism and sexism of modern America, it also drives them insane. So we need to think of the poor immigrants and build the Wall.

My great grandfather's sister who emigrated to Minnesota was known to sometimes sit at the shore of lake Superior, nostalgic about the home country with it's frigid ocean that she would never again see. If my recollection is right, the sea gulls contributed to the nostalgia.

I feel a bit of the same at times, once in a while, the sea gulls make a racket here in Portland.

Somewhat off topic, but I find it interesting how white
Americans differ in physical appearance from British and Australians, which I assume is due mainly to the Scandinavian and German migration to the US. Look at male politicians for example - in an Australian and British sample you see far more weak chins, rounded jaws, bulbous noses, even thinning hair, whereas the Americans seem taller, square-jawed and even featured, broader-shouldered with good heads of hair. I notice it at work too. However, I also wonder if it is something to do with the diet or the environment, as Asian-Americans or African Americans also have some of this look when you stand them against people of the same ethnicity from the original continent.

It must be the viking admixture. We killed of anybody with a weak chin or rounded jaw.

That explains a lot. In Lake Wobegon the children damn well better be above average. Or else.

Americans elect their leaders. So they have to look telegenic. British and Australian leaders are elected in back room horse trading by the party elites. They do not need to look impressive. See Harry Truman.

Harry Truman was indeed a reluctant president who got the spot in a backroom deal. And he was kept in the dark about the nuclear bomb, and got very limited briefings before his boss kicked the bucket.

PS, not reluctant enough to quit after one term.

What about the women?

(Australian women seem to be having a good run in Hollywood recently)

So that is it. America mow must welcome crazy people.

It always has. Read about the mad-dog Puritans who established Massachusetts.

And later fomented the Revolutionary War, the War Between the States, Prohibition, specially denatured alcohol and wars against pornography, among other things.

Yeah, but the Indians and the French had the good sense to terrorize them. Now, we give you a Medicaid card.

I'll see you puritans and raise you Jamestown and the indentured servants.

I'll see your puritans and raise you Jamestown and the indentured servants.

Also, who do you think was immigrating here from Europe back in the day? Sometimes it was the persecuted, who would have been well off otherwise, but...

"When [FILL IN NAME OF COUNTRY FROM WHICH LOTS OF PEOPLE EMIGRATED TO THE US] sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us."

Can you imagine what the Mormon converts from Europe were like who decided to choose some new radical religion, leave their family and homeland, travel across the ocean with just the clothes on their back, and then take a dangerous journey across the continent to a God forsaken desert? I'm sure they were all totally, mentally stable. Stable geniuses, some might say.

Seagulls and for that matter train whistles in the distance seem to be almost universal in stirring feelings in people. They even created feelings of incurable homesickness in the elves in Tolkien's Middle Earth.

Other memory triggers are idiosyncratic, e.g. Proust's madelines. But seagulls and trains in the distance affect a lot of people for some reason.

Oops, this was meant to be a reply to Viking's comment: "the sea gulls contributed to the nostalgia.

I feel a bit of the same at times, once in a while, the sea gulls make a racket here in Portland."

In contrast, sounds such as chattering squirrels or automobiles on a busy street do not seem to provoke feelings of nostalgia nearly as often.

Do you think seagulls trigger nostalgia in people that didn't grow up with them?

My conjecture is yes, as long as the person made even a single trip to the ocean and found it memorable (and there were seagulls).

Which I think most people do: a combination of more water, saltier water, bigger beaches, and bigger waves than they'd seen before ... plus seagulls. Plus whatever else that trip offered: boardwalks, saltwater taffy, whale watching tours, tidal pools, seashells, clam-digging.

So I think most people find their trip or trips to the ocean memorable, and if there are seagulls in the background imprinting their sounds into the memory then the trigger is set, for life.

But that's the easier part, easy to see why seagulls would send people's minds back to the ocean. Why aren't other sounds as strong at triggering nostalgic memories?

Corollary-Causation? Wouldn't Scandinavians that have mental issues be more likely to leave an unaccepting home and strike out for greener pastures than normal, well-adjusted Vikings?

I understand that it's usual for immigrants - from pretty much anywhere to anywhere - to have elevated levels of madness.

People who stay do not understand those who left.

Those who arrive are different from those already there.

I've learned a lot from these kinds of crazy people.

If you use the layman's definition of schizophrenia, multiple personalities, then it would almost be expected of an immigrant, the person of the old country, and the one of the new country, fighting for dominance.

I think Steve Sailer had a line of thought that is worth looking in to.
Families that have mentally ill members are torn between loving their member and being incredibly burdened by their member. No one can overtly say it out loud, but a "fix" that has a face saving, socially acceptable outcome AND gets rid of the family member has got to feel like a golden ticket to an overburdened, mentally burnt out dad/mom of a schizophrenic.
Going to America was a societally sanctioned activity, no shame in it, so instead of imagining why individuals migrated it might be better to imagine mom and pops walking their troubled son down to the docks, perhaps dragging him part of the way, and giving him a living but firm admonishing that "America is going to be a better place for you"

Good point. Why assume Norway was sending their best and brightest?

Very good point! There is an understanding that small towns in Norway would buy certain ZMP workers a boat ticket to America back in the days.

There’s a Steve earl song about a dad who knows his boy will be trouble and sends him off with $20 and a horse.

Either that, or Norwegians in Minnesota were especially targeted by Nazi experimenters ... who after diagnosis could often experiment on people with impunity.

1930s "schizophrenia" was housewives who didn't happy happy happy do the house chores, etc.

1960s "schizophrenia" was black people with delusional (civil rights based) "protest psychosis".

In the 1970s, schizophrenia was redefined again, basically synonymously with capacities in electromagnetic-based weapons used (e.g.) for political oppression and involuntary experimentation purposes.

The DSM5 no longer counts refusal to let a doctor physically force to move your limbs (while poking and prodding at your body and mind, potentially between extended electroshock "treatments") as a specific type of "schizophrenia".

That moment when you realize Nathan has just been a schizophrenic the entire time.

Despite an academic SJW publishing a book, I kind of doubt that people diagnosed Black Civil Rights activists with schizophrenia. If only because people did try that once:

When Clennon W. King, Jr., an African-American pastor and activist of the Civil Rights Movement, attempted to enroll at the all-white University of Mississippi for summer graduate courses in 1958, the Mississippi police arrested him on the grounds that "any nigger who tried to enter Ole Miss must be crazy."[43] Keeping King's whereabouts secret for 48 hours, the Mississippi authorities kept him confined to a mental hospital for twelve days before a panel of doctors established the activist's sanity

If Mississippi is not willing to jail a Civil Rights activist for activism, Michigan - far more, even famously, liberal Michigan - won't.

And needless to say claiming housewives in the midst of the Great Depression were so diagnosed because they would not do the house work is likely to be an urban legend too.

One time a black guy got confined to a mental hospital for 2 weeks before they admitted there was no good reason.

Therefore, in conclusion, such powers were never abused.


(Also, the notion that any 1930s men with medical degrees had problems with women who had different ideas about their role in society ... utter delusion.)

(Also, SJW, SJW, SJW. Ergo 90+% of such and such subtype immediately 'ha ha ha other stupid people are stupid', agree.)

How many times can you change the subject in one post Nathan? Maybe men in the 1930s with medical degrees did have a problem with women who had different ideas about their role in society. How right they were. But they don't seem to have done anything about it. The history of the White Male is one of giving women pretty much anything they ask for, pretty much immediately, without thinking about whether it is logical or sensible to do so. I suspect women in the 1930s were happier than they are now partly because they had real men to look after them.

As for the African American, the fact that one man could not be treated in this way in Mississippi of all places pretty much rules out it being used regularly in other places with a lot more Liberals like Michigan. If you can't see that ....

A black man in one place got confined for two weeks for applying to university, therefore it is impossible that one or more persons in another place consciously or unconsciously abused their power.

Thanks for clarifying the matter.

How many women in the USA in 1935 were allowed to practice medicine?

What was the reason for that?

As many as wanted to. The first college for training women as doctors was opened in 1848. The second in 1850.

Does anyone have any idea what "schizophrenia" even meant, as a word or concept, in the 1920s?

Schizophrenia is found worldwide with reported rates of 300-600 cases per 100,000. Norway has a fairly small population. Diagnostic standards have probably changed since 1920. I think that one should assume variations in diagnostic standards and simple statistical sampling variations as a first cause for some of these findings.
My personal experience is that Concordia graduates are better looking than St. Olaf grads, but I don’t think that you should base public policy on this opinion.

Didn't Tyler or someone around here have a post last year arguing that we needed to prevent genetic selection against mental illness on the grounds that society need a healthy percentage of crazy people to stimulate artistic creativity?

The reason for this is likely malnutrition as children/embryos/etc.. A good reason to leave Norway would be lack of food. IIRC there was an uptick in the Netherlands as a result of the winter of 1944/45 were food was scarce. Same with Leningrad which was under siege from 1941-1943.

1) would have self selected for dissatisfaction with their home circumstances
2) would have tended to become cut off from existing family and social connections
3) who chose to go to the frontier would have tended to be "end of the roaders".

My father, a Scandinavian immigrant, said every immigrant he knew had come running away from something. That was probably as true in the 19th century as it was in the mid twentieth century.

Norwegian lives matter!

"...people who were disposed to this illness were more restless and found it easier than other personality types to break out of their environment."

So one could say these restless immigrants were not complacent. Non-complacency develops mental illness?

Might this be a reason why the West Coast seems "crazier" than the rest of the country? (p.s. live there, love it)

Is there reason to question the accuracy of diagnoses of mental illness made in the 1920's?

My guess is that there is plenty of reason. And schizophrenics, at least, seem pretty unlikely to be able to manage migrating to another country. So do people suffering from depression. Some of the theories propounded here sound backwards to me.

This fits nicely with a Darwinian explanation of the success of the US...

Only the crazy or desperate would leave where they are to come here.
Only the strongest thrive once they do.

[I have to credit my old professor Digby Baltzell for inspiring this. Unfortunately, the story requires too much delicacy to convey properly in this forum.]

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