Race (U.S. Census)

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The United States Census Bureau uses the federal government's definitions of race when performing a census. These definitions have changed in the past and may yet change between censuses.

Race in the US Federal Census
The 7th federal census, in 1850, asked for Color[1] and gave the choices:
The 10th federal census, in 1880, asked for Color[2] and gave the choices:
  • white
  • black
  • mulatto
  • Chinese
  • Indian
The 22nd federal census, in 2000, had a "short form"[3] that asked two race/ancestry questions:

1.Is the person Spanish/Hispanic/Latino?

  • No, not Spanish/Hispanic/Latino
  • Yes, Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano
  • Yes, Puerto Rican
  • Yes, Cuban
  • Yes, other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino (write in group)

2.What is the person's race?

  • White
  • Black, African American, Negro
  • American Indian or Alaska Native (write in tribe)
  • Asian Indian
  • Chinese
  • Filipino
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Vietnamese
  • Native Hawaiian
  • Guamanian or Chamorro
  • Samoan
  • Other Pacific Islander (write in race)
  • Other race (write in race)

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

The racial categories are officially described as follows:ยน

The categories represent a social-political construct designed for collecting data on the race and ethnicity of broad population groups in this country, and are not anthropologically or scientifically based.
Furthermore, the race categories include both racial and national-origin groups. [4]

Racial classification in the 2000 census was based solely on self-identification and, for the first time, did not pre-suppose disjointness:

The question on race asked respondents to report the race or races they considered themselves to be. Both questions are based on self-identification.

Nearly seven million Americans identified themselves as members of more than one race in the 2000 census.

For the 2000 census the Census Bureau considers race to be separate from Hispanic origin.

Because of changes to definitions, the Census Bureau issued the following warning:

The question on race for Census 2000 was different from the one for the 1990 census in several ways. Most significantly, respondents were given the option of selecting one or more race categories to indicate their racial identities. 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 U.S. population over time.

2000 Definitions

The following definitions apply to the 2000 census only.


The same language has been used for many years. See for example:


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