The Sources of the Racial and Ethnic Composition of the American Population: Past, Present, and Future

Charles Hirschman, University of Washington
Anthony D. Perez, University of Washington

There are contradictory popular images of the origins of the American population and the demographic processes that led to its creation. In the classic demographic balancing equation, population change can occur only through natural increase, mortality, and migration. Racial and ethnic groups are largely treated as discrete subpopulations. Yet the popular “melting pot” image presupposes intermarriage of persons from different populations, the natural results of which are offspring with mixed ancestry. The fragile foundations of racial and ethnic measurement, both past and present, coexist with a social structure where even deeply flawed categories are strongly correlated with socioeconomic status, life expectancy, and multiple indicators of individual and collective well being. This enduring reality motivates the present exercise to better identify sources of racial and ethnic composition while explicitly accounting for wide margins of uncertainty in racial classification and measurement.

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Presented in Session 42: Measurement Issues in Race/Ethnicity