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Race and ethnicity in the United States Census, as defined by the United States Census Bureau and the Federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB), are self-identification data items in which residents choose the race or races with which they most closely identify, and indicate whether or not they are of Hispanic or Latino origin (ethnicity).

The racial categories represent a social-political construct designed for the race or races that respondents consider themselves to be and "generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country." The OMB defines the concept of race as outlined for the US Census as not "scientific or anthropological" and takes into account "social and cultural characteristics as well as ancestry" using "appropriate scientific methodologies" but not "primarily biological or genetic in reference."

Race and ethnicity are considered separate and distinct identities, with Hispanic or Latino origin asked as a separate question. Thus, in addition to their race or races, all respondents are categorized by membership in one of two ethnicities: "Hispanic or Latino" and "Not Hispanic or Latino." In 1997, OMB issued a Federal Register Notice which provided revised racial and ethnic definitions.

Census 2000


Race was asked differently in the Census 2000 in several other ways than previously. Most significantly, respondents were given the option of selecting one or more race categories to indicate their racial identities. Data show that nearly seven million Americans identified themselves as members of two or more races. Because of these changes, the Census 2000 data on race are not directly comparable with data from the 1990 census or earlier censuses. Caution must be used when interpreting changes in the racial composition of the US population over time.
Snapshot: Race in the US Census
The 7th federal census, in 1850, asked for Color and gave the choices:
  • white
  • black
  • Mixed
The 10th federal census, in 1880, asked for Color and gave the choices:
  • white
  • black
  • Mixed
  • Chinese
  • Indian
The 22nd federal census, in 2000, had a "short form" that asked one ethnic and one race/ancestry question:

1. Is the person Spanish/Hispanic/Latino?

2. What is the person's race?
  • White
  • Black or African American
  • American Indian or Alaska Native (write in tribe)
  • Asian Indian
  • Chinese
  • Filipino
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Vietnamese
  • Native Hawaiian
  • Guamanian or Chamorro
  • Samoans
  • Other Pacific Islander (write in race)
  • Other race (write in race)

This census acknowledged that "race categories include both racial and national-origin groups."

The following definitions apply to the 2000 census only.

  • "White. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. It includes people who designate their race as 'White' or report entries such as Irish, German, Australian, Italian, Near Easterner, Arab, Polish."
Because a good percentage of South Americans are direct descendants of Europeans, many will indicate their race as "White".

  • "Black or African American. A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as 'Black, African Am., or Negro,' or provide written entries such as African American, Afro American, Kenyan, Nigerian, or Jamaican."

  • "Asian. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. It includes 'Asian Indian,' 'Chinese,' 'Filipino,' 'Korean,' 'Japanese,' 'Vietnamese,' and 'Other Asian.'"

  • 'Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands. It includes people who indicate their race as 'Native Hawaiian', 'Guamanian or Chamorro', 'Samoan', and 'Other Pacific Islander'."

  • "Some other race. Includes all other responses not included in the 'White', 'Black or African American', 'American Indian and Alaska Native', 'Asian' and 'Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander' race categories described above. Respondents providing write-in entries such as multiracial, mixed, interracial, We-Sort, or a Hispanic/Latino group (for example, Mexican, Puerto Rican, or Cuban) in the 'Some other race' category are included here."

  • "Two or more races. People may have chosen to provide two or more races either by checking two or more race response check boxes, by providing multiple write-in responses, or by some combination of check boxes and write-in responses."


The Federal government of the United States has mandated that "in data collection and presentation, federal agencies are required to use a minimum of two ethnicities: "Hispanic or Latino" and "Not Hispanic or Latino."" The Census Bureau defines "Hispanic or Latino" as "a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race." For discussion of the meaning and scope of the Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, see the Hispanic and Latino Americans and Racial and ethnic demographics of the United States articles.

Use of the word ethnicity for Hispanicity only is considerably more restricted than its conventional meaning, which covers other distinctions, some of which are covered by the "race" and "ancestry" questions. The distinct questions accommodate the possibility of Hispanic and Latino Americans' also declaring various racial identities (see also White Hispanic and Latino Americans, Asian Latinos, and Black Hispanic and Latino Americans).

In the 2000 Census, 12.5% of the US population reported Hispanic or Latino ethnicity and 87.5% reported non-Hispanic or Latino ethnicity.

Other agencies

In 2001, the National Institutes of Healthmarker adopted the new language to comply with the revisions to Directive 15, as did the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of the United States Department of Labormarker in 2007. See Race and ethnicity .

Relation between ethnicity and race in census results

The Census Bureau warns that data on race in Census 2000 are not directly comparable to those collected in previous censuses. It has also been noted that many US residents see race and ethnicity as the same concept.

Race Hispanic or
% of
% of
Not Hispanic
or Latino
% of Not
% of
Any races 35,305,818 100 12.5 246,116,088 100 87.5
One race: 33,081,736 93.7 11.8 241,513,942 98.1 85.8
White 16,907,852 47.9 6.0 194,552,774 79.1 69.1
Black or
African A.
710,353 2.0 0.3 33,947,837 13.8 12.1
A. Indian/
Alaska Nat.
407,073 1.2 0.1 2,068,883 0.8 0.7
Asian 119,829 0.3 <0.1 10,123,169 4.1 3.6
Hawaiian N.
& Pacific Is.
45,326 0.1 <0.1 353,509 0.1 0.1
Some other 14,891,303 42.2 5.3 467,770 0.2 0.2
2+ races: 2,224,082 6.3 0.8 4,602,146 1.9 1.6
Some other
+ W/B/N/A
1,859,538 5.3 0.7 1,302,875 0.5 0.5
2+ W/B/N/A 364,544 1.0 0.1 3,299,271 1.3 1.2

2010 Census

The 2010 US Census will have changes designed to more clearly distinguish the Hispanic ethnicity as not being a race. That may include adding the sentence: "For this census, Hispanic origins are not races." Additionally, the Hispanic terms will be reordered from "Hispanic or Latino" to "Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin".

In response to a very large percentage of Hispanics marking "Some other race" (a non-standard category), the 2010 US Census is considering removing the "Some other race" category.


  1. Final Revisions of the Employer Information Report (EEO-1) by the EEOC. The page contains links to FAQs, forms and instructions
  2. American Anthropological Association. "A Brief History of the OMB Directive 15." 1997. May 18, 2007.[1]
  3. Waite, Preston. US Census Bureau. " 2010 Decennial Census Program." 2006. accessed July 7, 2008.

See also

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