Beyond the Looking Glass: Exploring Variation between Racial Self-Identification and Interviewer Classification

Aliya Saperstein, University of Oregon
Andrew Penner, University of California, Irvine

Research has demonstrated the fluidity of both racial self-identification and interviewer classification. However, the specific patterns of variation between the two measures – i.e., how they might influence each other over time – have yet to be empirically explored. The prevailing assumption is that people calibrate or edit their self-identification to accord with how they are perceived by others. Yet moving from a discordant classification to a concordant one, as the looking-glass self theory implies, is only one of several possible outcomes when comparing the two measures of race over time. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, we categorize racial variation along three dimensions – stability, influence and concordance – and find that many changes are unexplained by existing theories and unaccounted for in most studies. We also investigate patterns of change by other respondent characteristics, such as social position, to identify additional factors driving racial classification dynamics.

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Presented in Session 183: Demography of Race and Ethnicity: Beyond Black and White