Race (United States Census)

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The United States Census classifications of race and ethnicity are definitions established by the United States Census Bureau and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) of the Federal Government of the United States . It is a categorization that people in the United States use to classify themselves when completing census questionnaires . They choose one or more of the “races” with which they identify most closely. They must also indicate whether they their origin by Hispanic or Latino or not. The categorization of “race” corresponds to this self-disclosure, but also represents the general “social definition of the 'races' that are recognized in [the United States] ...”.

The Office of Management and Budget does not define the concept set out in the census as "scientific or anthropological", but takes into account "both social and cultural characteristics as well as origin", whereby "appropriate scientific methodologies" are taken into account, but not in "Primarily biological or genetic reference". “Race” and ethnicity are viewed as distinct and distinct characteristics, and Hispanic origins are asked separately. Accordingly, all residents are classified into one of two ethnic groups: Hispanic-or-Latino and non-Hispanic-or-Latino.


As early as the first census in 1790, the distinction was made as to whether someone had a "white" skin color or not.

The 7th census in 1850 contained three categories, which were queried as follows:

At the 10th Census in 1880, the number of choices was greater:

  • White
  • black
  • mulatto
  • Chinese
  • indian

For the United States Census 2000 , the 22nd Census, the criteria were established in 1997 by the Office of Management and Budget. The "short form" contained a question about ethnicity and race:

1. Is the person Spanish / Hispanic / Latino?

  • No, not spanish / hispanic / latino
  • Yes, Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano
  • yes, Puerto Rican
  • yes, Cuban
  • yes, different spanish / hispanic / latino (name group)

2. What is the “race” of the person?

  • Whiter
  • Black or African American
  • Indigenous Americans (name tribe)
  • In the
  • Chinese
  • Filipino
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Vietnamese
  • Hawaiians
  • Guamer or Chamorro
  • Samoans
  • Residents of other Pacific Islands (to be named)
  • Other "race" (name)

In 2007, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of the US Department of Labor adapted the classifications of race and ethnicity in its area to the current definitions of the OMB.

Census 2000


The 2000 census asked about the “race” in a different way than before. The clearest difference was that the respondents were given the opportunity to select not just one but several racial categories to define their self-image. The data analysis then showed that almost seven million Americans feel they belong to two or more “races”. Because of these changes, the results of the 2000 census are not directly comparable with the results of previous censuses. Caution must therefore be exercised when interpreting changes in the composition of the US population in terms of membership of a “race”.

The following definitions refer only to the 2000 Census.

  • The term "white Americans" ( White people ) denotes individuals whose origin dates back to any original group in Europe, the Middle East or North Africa. It summarizes people who describe themselves as whites or who make entries such as German-Americans, Italian-Americans, Albanians, Irish, British, Arab-Americans or Slavic-Americans.
  • The term "Black or African American" ( Black or African American ) refers to individuals whose origin is one of the black peoples of Africa. It includes people who identify as black or African-American , as well as those who make entries such as Caribbean-Americans, Haitians, Nigerians or Kenyans.
  • "Indigenous Americans" ( American Indian and Alaska Native ) are people whose origin is one of the original peoples of North or South America, and who still see themselves as a tribal member ( Indians of North America including Alaska ).
  • "Asians" ( Asian ) are people whose origins are the peoples of East Asia, South Asia or Southeast Asia, for example in Bangladesh , Cambodia , China , Pakistan , India , Indonesia , Japan , Korea , Malaysia , the Philippines , Thailand or Vietnam . It includes names such as "Indian-American", "Chinese-American", Filipino, "Korean-American", "Japanese-American" and "other Asians".
  • The term "Pacific Islanders" ( Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders ) refers to people with origins in one of the ethnic groups that originally inhabited the islands in the Pacific Ocean, such as Hawaii , Guam or Samoa . This also includes mentions such as indigenous Hawaiians, Guamers, Samoa-Americans or Chamorro . According to the US Census, Aborigines belong to this breed.
  • As "other races" ( other-race ) all answers are counted that do not fit into one of the other groups. This classification is primarily intended for answers such as mulatto, creole or mestizo. Nine-tenths of those who fall into this group say they are Hispanic .
  • The division "two or more races" ( Two or more races ) refers to persons belonging to several "races". According to the definition of the US Census, these are those who ticked two or more "races", gave several statements in the wording or used a combination thereof.


The US federal government requires that "in collecting and presenting data, federal agencies use at least two races: 'Hispano or Latino' and 'Non-Hispano or Latino'." The Office of Management and Budget defines "Hispano or Latino" as "a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race".

The use of the word ethnicity only with regard to Hispanic origin is therefore much more restricted than the usual understanding of the word, the actual distinctions of which are reflected in the census questionnaire in the questions about "race" and origin. This distinction enables Hispanics in the United States to express their different identities in terms of skin color.

In the United States Census 2000 , 12.5% ​​of the US population said they belonged to the Hispanic or Latino ethnic group.

Result of the 2000 census: ethnicity according to "race"

The United States Census 2000 gave the following result with regard to ethnicity:

"Race" Hispano or
% of
H / L
% of the
or Latino
% of
H / L
% of the
All 35,305,818 100 12.5 246.116.088 100 87.5
A "race" 33,081,736 93.7 11.8 241,513,942 98.1 85.8
Whiteness (W) 16,907,852 47.9 6.0 194.552.774 79.1 69.1
Black or African American (B) 710.353 2.0 0.3 33,947,837 13.8 12.1
Indigenous Americans (N) 407.073 1.2 0.1 2,068,883 0.8 0.7
Asians (A) 119,829 0.3 <0.1 10.123.169 4.1 3.6
Hawaiians & Pacific Islanders 45,326 0.1 <0.1 353.509 0.1 0.1
Other 14.891.303 42.2 5.3 467.770 0.2 0.2
2 or more "races" 2,224,082 6.3 0.8 4,602,146 1.9 1.6
Other "races" + W / B / N / A 1,859,538 5.3 0.1 1,302,875 0.5 0.5
2 or more “races” + W / B / N / A 364,544 1.0 0.1 3,299,271 1.3 1.2


The Census Bureau points out that data on "races" are not directly comparable to results from previous censuses. The rules regarding the new definitions were published in 1997 by the Office of Management and Budget in the Federal Register .

Many people in the United States see "race" and ethnicity as a consistent approach. In the absence of a choice that most closely matched their self-image, 42.2% of Hispanics or Latinos ticked the option of “another race” in the 2000 Census. Therefore it was considered to remove the category “another breed” from the questionnaires for the 2010 Census .

For 2010, the Census Bureau finally redesigned the “Race” questionnaire. Questions 5 on origin and 6 on “race” were marked with a note that both questions had to be answered and that “Hispanic origin” was not a “race” in the sense of the census. Then the origin was queried as "Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin" with several possible answers, the first of which was the negative and the following ones determined a more detailed regional origin. In Question 6 then the "race" was queried the person differently, with a variety of possible answers and multiple options certain "other" ( other to choose and describe a field closer by filling). Any number of options could be checked at the same time.

The evaluation of the 2010 Census showed that, as in previous decades, more and more people indicated the field “White” as “Race” who had chosen other answer options in previous surveys. The Hispanics showed a particularly large increase between 2000 and 2010. But there was also a smaller migration in the opposite direction. On the one hand, this is attributed to the newly designed questionnaires; on the other hand, self-identification with an origin or race has become increasingly complex.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. census.gov: Glossary: ​​Race (accessed May 9, 2019)
  2. Questions and Answers for Census 2000 Data on Race ( Memento of March 28, 2009 in the Internet Archive ). US Census Bureau. March 14, 2001. Retrieved February 18, 2008.
  3. a b c d e American Anthropological Association. A Brief History of the OMB Directive 15 1997. Retrieved February 18, 2008.
  4. http://www.census.gov/history/www/through_the_decades/index_of_questions
  5. ancestry.com: 1850 United States Federal Census Form (accessed May 9, 2019)
  6. ancestry.com: 1880 United States Federal Census Form (accessed May 9, 2019)
  7. ^ "Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity" . Retrieved February 18, 2008.
  8. 2000 US Census form (PDF; 434 kB) . Retrieved February 18, 2008.
  9. ^ Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 2007. Final Revisions of the Employer Information Report (EEO-1) ( Memento of August 13, 2009 in the Internet Archive ). Retrieved February 18, 2008.
  10. a b U.S. Census Bureau, 2000 Census of Population, Public Law 94-171 Redistricting Data File. Race ( memento of March 7, 2008 in the Internet Archive ). Retrieved February 18, 2008.
  11. ^ University of Virginia. Geospatial and Statistical Data Center. 2003. "1990 PUMS Ancestry Codes" ( Memento of the original from August 25, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . Retrieved February 18, 2008. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / fisher.lib.virginia.edu
  12. ^ University of Michigan. Census 1990: Ancestry Codes. . Retrieved February 18, 2008.
  13. ^ Racial and Ethnic Classifications Used in Census 2000 and Beyond ( Memento of February 3, 2010 in the Internet Archive ). Retrieved February 18, 2008.
  14. 2000 Census of Population and Housing Technical Documentation ( Memento of August 14, 2009 in the Internet Archive ). Retrieved February 18, 2008.
  15. a b c d Elizabeth M. Grieco, Racheal C. Cassidy, US Census Bureau. 2001. Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: 2000. (PDF; 149 kB) Accessed February 18, 2008.
  16. OMB Directive 15. Federal Register Notice October 30, 1997 ( Memento of June 13, 2009 in the Internet Archive ). White House website. Retrieved February 18, 2008.
  17. US Census Press Releases. 2006. Census Bureau to Test Changes in Questionnaire, New Response Technology ( Memento of February 8, 2007 in the Internet Archive ). Retrieved February 18, 2008.
  18. US Census Bureau: Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin 2010
  19. Citylab.com: A Complete History of Census Race Boxes , November 3, 2015
  20. ^ NPR: What Is Your Race? For Millions Of Americans, A Shifting Answer , June 9, 2014
  21. ^ NPR: On The Census, Who Checks 'Hispanic,' Who Checks 'White,' And Why , June 16, 2014