Census Data and Improving Ethnic, Racial, and Immigration Statistics

Awarded Scholars:
Richard Alba, CUNY Graduate Center
Project Date:
Jul 2016
Award Amount:

The ethno-racial composition of the population is changing, with an increasing percentage of children born to parents from different racial/ethnic backgrounds. The Census Bureau inadequately measures and represents these developments. In the case of ethnicity and race, the inability of census classifications to capture individuals with mixed Hispanic/non-Hispanic origins (because anyone of Hispanic origin is assumed to be only Hispanic, regardless of race) means that the data lose sight of the largest group with mixed backgrounds: children who have one Anglo and one Hispanic parent. As a result, the Census Bureau’s assignment of all individuals with mixed racial backgrounds to the minority side of the minority/majority divide exaggerates the decline of the white population. And in the case of generation, the absence of a Census question on parental birthplace since 1970 means that the transition between the second and the third and later generations cannot be analyzed. Although some datasets (such as the Current Population Survey) do contain the necessary question, their sample sizes restrict the analysis to the very largest groups, such as Mexicans.

Sociologist Richard Alba and political scientist Kenneth Prewitt will convene demographers, social psychologists, and other social scientists for a one-day conference at RSF in December 2016. The conference will inform both the Census Bureau and the academic and public policy communities about the extant scientific knowledge concerning these measurement issues, and how to improve ethnic, racial, and immigration statistics.


RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


The Russell Sage Foundation offers grants and positions in our Visiting Scholars program for research.


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