NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

In Census Count, Race Goes To The "Other"

March 2, 2001

Census Bureau forms in the 2000 count tried to give respondents a wider choice of racial categories to identify themselves. But experts say the results were confusing, to say the least, and can serve no useful purpose.

  • The census form offered a mosaic of 63 racial options -- up from just five in 1990.
  • This included six single races, 15 possible combinations of two races, 20 combinations of three, 15 of four, six combinations of five, and one grand mix of all six racial categories.
  • The last specified: "White-Black-Asian-American Indian or Alaska native-Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander-Some Other Race."
  • By matching these racial options against two ethnic possibilities -- Hispanic or non-Hispanic -- the census produced a matrix of 126 total combinations of race and ethnicity.

The way the racial part of the census form has been constructed, it "serves no useful purpose and is a lot more trouble than it is worth," says University of Southern California demographer Dowell Myers.

Source: Eduardo Porter, "Even 126 Sizes Don't Fit All: New Census Lets People List Many Race, Ethnic Options But Some Still Feel Left Out," Wall Street Journal, March 2, 2001.


Browse more articles on Government Issues