Measuring Race (and Ethnicity): An Overview of Past Practices, Current Concerns and Thoughts for the Future

C. Matthew Snipp, Stanford University

On the eve of the 2010 census, Census Bureau staff are already beginning to think about how race should be measured in the 2020 census. This paper looks at the history of racial measurement, assesses the performance of the current standard in the context of a 1996 NAS report, and concludes with a set of considerations that must be taken into account for the purposes of assessing race in the census or in any survey instrument. Particular attention is given to a variety of legal definitions that have historically been used to measure race, followed by the first issuance of OMB Directive No. 15 in 1977, and then followed by the latest revision in 1997. Discussion of how various federal agencies have adjusted to the 1997 revision is also included in this discussion.

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