Pew: Millions Changed Race in Census, Spike in 'American Indians'

Image: Pew: Millions Changed Race in Census, Spike in 'American Indians'

Tuesday, 06 May 2014 09:30 AM

By Melanie Batley

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More than 10 million Americans changed their race on their census forms since 2000, and more people identified themselves as "American Indian" than can be accounted for by birth or immigration, according to a new Pew Research Center report.

The report, presented at the Population Association of America meeting last week, found that of the 168 million forms from the 2010 Census analyzed by university and government population scientists, more than 10 million selected different race or Hispanic-origin designations than they had in the 2000 Census survey.

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Hispanics, Americans of mixed race, American Indians, and Pacific Islanders were among those most likely to check different boxes from one census to the next. A separate paper at the conference reported a "remarkable turnover" among those describing themselves as American Indian, with increases since 1960 that have been higher than can be accounted for by births or immigration.

The figures for the race changes could be even higher, given the analysis was based on roughly 60 percent of the 2000 population.

"Do Americans change their race? Yes, millions do," the study's co-author Carolyn Liebler, a University of Minnesota sociologist, said in a statement, adding that it varies by group.

The report said researchers did not make any definitive conclusions about the reasons why people may change their racial status. One explanation could be that the census asks separate questions about race and ethnicity that could be confusing, while some people change their category after they find out they had an ancestor of a different race.

But the report also said the changes could be due to the benefits associated with being identified with some groups, "such as priority in college admissions."

The report also noted that relatively few people who called themselves non-Hispanic white, black, or Asian in 2000 changed their category in 2010.

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