US Census data may undercount Mexicans, Arabs, others

Sep 04, 2013

The number of Mexican-Americans known to be legally in the United States would increase nearly 10 percent if the federal census broadened its standard definition to include people who don't identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino but who were nonetheless born in Mexico or report Mexican ancestry, according to a new study by a Duke University professor.

The 20.9 million Mexican-Americans who identified themselves as "Mexican" in response to the Hispanic origin question in the 2000 would have risen by 9.8 percent to 22.9 million with this broader definition. The additional people would have been better educated, more prosperous and more likely to identify themselves as white, according to the analysis by Jen'nan Read, a professor of sociology and at Duke.

By contrast, if the 2000 census had broadened its standard definition of "Arab-American" to extend beyond "Arab ancestry" to also include birth in an Arabic country or speaking Arabic at home, the total would have risen 13 percent, from 1.1 to 1.3 million. Those added would have been less educated, poorer and more likely to identify as non-white or multi-racial.

Read sees several plausible explanations for the , such as some families of Mexican ancestry seeking to differentiate themselves from newer .

"Many U.S.-born Mexicans consider the term 'Mexican' synonymous with 'immigrant,' and thus reject it in order to distance themselves from the associated with foreign-born ," she writes in a recently published article in Population Research and Policy Review. When it comes to Arab-Americans, the official definition is at odds with trends such as a recent increase in the number of poorer refugees and immigrants from Iraq and Yemen.

Scholars and policy makers have long debated the definitions used in U.S. census tallies, which have a big impact on how political power and resources are shared across American society, Read notes. She analyzed the Public Use Microdata Sample files, a large database of individuals and households in the 2000 census that statistically represents the U.S. population as a whole.

"The Arab and Mexican cases," she writes, "offer unique opportunities to examine whether and how alternative definitions of group identity alter what we know about the size, racial identifications and socio-economic profile of these groups."

If current trends continue, she predicts, "the implications for the Arab population are that immigrants in more socio-economically disadvantaged positions may be missed in standard classification methods. The opposite would be true for the Mexican population, where those who are U.S.-born and/or who are in more affluent social positions might be overlooked."

The situation is further complicated by the fact that "the census directs respondents into single-ethnic categories, leaving multi-ethnics or those who might affiliate with more than one primary identity largely unaccounted for," Read says. "In the end, findings from this study reaffirm the fact that ongoing debates over racial and ethnic classification schemas are far from being resolved and underscore the complexities that exist in defining U.S. ethnic populations."

Explore further: No silver bullet: Study identifies risk factors of youth charged with murder

More information: Read, J. Measuring Ethnicity with U.S. Census Data: Implications for Mexicans and Arabs, Population Research and Policy Review,  2013. Volume 32: 611-631. DOI: 10.1007/s11113-013-9286-5

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Racial identity is changing among Latinos

Dec 26, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- In a paper published in Social Science Research, USC Dornsife’s Amon Emeka and Jody Agius Vallejo look at why many people with Latin American ancestry are not identifying themselves as His ...

Immigration status affects educational achievement

May 29, 2013

Mexican American mothers' formal immigration status affects the educational achievement of their children and even their grandchildren, according to a study written by Penn State and University of California, Irvine, sociologists ...

Recommended for you

Data indicate there is no immigration crisis

16 hours ago

Is there an "immigration crisis" on the U.S.-Mexico border? Not according to an examination of historical immigration data, according to a new paper from Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Combating bullying in New Zealand

19 hours ago

Victoria University of Wellington's Accent Learning is rolling out a new bullying prevention programme for schools—a first for the Southern Hemisphere.

Why has Halloween infiltrated Australian culture?

21 hours ago

Halloween appears to have infiltrated Australian culture, and according to a University of Adelaide researcher, the reason for its increasing popularity could run much deeper than Americanisation.

The hidden world of labor trafficking

21 hours ago

When it comes to human trafficking, we often hear about victims being kidnapped or violently taken from their homes. But what about people who are forced into labor in the U.S.?

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Squirrel
3 / 5 (2) Sep 04, 2013
Could it be that they categorize themselves as American first, second, and third?