This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Diversity is Getting More Diverse in the US

The US Census Bureau just released a new set of data from the 2010 census showing the detailed breakdown of the population by racial and ethnic categories based on data from the 100 percent short form. In this census, as in the several most recent ones, the Census asked two questions to elicit race/ethnicity. The first question asked "Is this person of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?" and right after that was the question "What is this person's race?" Over time, people's perceptions of their own identity tend to change, and the statistics have to keep up with those changes. For a great example of this, by the way, you should read the article by Mara Loveman and Jeronimo O. Muniz, "How Puerto Rico Became White: Boundary Dynamics and Inter-Census Racial Reclassification" American Sociological Review 72 [6] (2007): 915-939. Anyway, it turns out that over time Hispanics in the US have been increasingly checking the "white" box on the census form rather than the "some other race" box.

The share of Hispanics identifying themselves as white increased over the past decade from 48 percent to 53 percent, while the proportion of those who marked "some other race" dropped from 42 percent to 37 percent. Many Hispanics previously preferred to check the "some other race" category to express their nationalities — such as Mexican or Cuban.
The Census Bureau has been examining different ways to count the nation's demographic groups. One experiment is a possible change to the questionnaire that would effectively treat Hispanics as a mutually exclusive group. It would allow people to check off just one of five race or ethnic categories — white, black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander or American Indian/Alaska Native — rather than asking people who identify themselves as Hispanic to also check what race they are.
Of course, the Census Bureau publishes, and encourages us to use, the so-called Hispanic-exclusive categories, in which Hispanic origin and Race are cross-tabulated, thus producing the non-Hispanic White category. Still, these census data show us that things are evolving.
"There is no question that racial lines are blurring in the United States, especially among `new' minorities — Hispanics, Asians and growing mixed race generations. Yet it's particularly significant that we are seeing breakdowns in white-black separation," said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. "Strong gains in interracial marriages and higher mixed-race identification among youth suggest that past racial categories will need to be radically changed or even dispensed with in the next two or three decades."

The Associated Press also came up with this nugget of information:
In the 2010 census, President Barack Obama was among those who identified himself only as African-American, even though his mother was white.
Keep in mind that this information had to have come from the President himself, since the census data are confidential for 72 years, and any Census Bureau employee who released such information would be in big trouble.

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