Rethinking U.S. Census Racial and Ethnic Categories

Sharon M. Lee, University of Victoria
Sonya Tafoya, Judicial Council of California

How do high levels of immigration and a growing multiracial population challenge census racial and ethnic categories? We begin by discussing the relationship between race, ethnicity, and ancestry and their measurement in the census. We examine data from the 2000 Census 5 percent IPUMS to compare racial responses of native- and foreign-born Hispanics, Asians, and Middle Easterners, and native-born multiracial Hispanics, Asians, and Middle Easterners, by ancestry. For some groups, for example, Europeans and Africans, ancestry and race are expected to overlap well. However, we expect current census racial categories to be problematic for the growing numbers of people who reported Some Other Race (SOR) alone or in combination with another race, a diverse population that we found to include multiracial Hispanics, Middle Easterners, and Asians. We conclude with a discussion of possible changes to the census questions on race, Hispanic ethnicity, and ancestry in light of these challenges.

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Presented in Session 42: Measurement Issues in Race/Ethnicity