Measuring Hispanic Origin: Reflections on Hispanic Race Reporting Sonya R. Porter, and C. Matthew Snipp


1. There are more than 50 million Hispanics in the United States, composing 16 percent of the population. Hispanics are also one of the fastest-growing race and ethnic groups. The American public often views and treats Hispanics as a racial group; yet 47 years after a Hispanic origin measure was added to the 1970 U.S. decennial census, and after numerous tests aimed at ameliorating racial measurement issues related to Hispanics, we continue to struggle with defining and measuring this population. In this article, we review literature about conceptual and measurement issues regarding Hispanic race reporting, evaluate public tabulations from one of the largest Census Bureau studies conducted in the 2010 Census to test strategies to improve race reporting for Hispanics, and discuss the opportunities and challenges of changing the race question on the decennial census to incorporate Hispanics.

2. Keywords: Hispanic origin; race; measurement


3. The Directive 15 in 1977 defined four races: American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian or Pacific Islander, BLACK, and white; and two ethnicities: Hispanic and non-Hispanic.

4. Despite the ideology of racial mixture common to many Latin American countries, racial categories are enacted in different ways found that Puerto Ricans use more than nineteen different categories to describe a person's skin tone and physical characteristics; while in the Dominican Republic, skin color and nationality are used to define people racially. Labels in between white and BLACK such as indio-claro (“light Indian”) are reserved for Dominicans, while Haitians are racialized as BLACK.

5. Within the United States, the characteristics of Hispanics who report white, BLACK, or SOR, or do not report a race, differ considerably. White Hispanics have higher incomes and live in more affluent areas compared to BLACK Hispanics and Hispanics who report SOR. The socioeconomic experiences of Hispanics who report SOR fall in between white Hispanics and BLACK Hispanics, while BLACK Hispanics and non-Hispanic BLACKs have similar economic characteristics (Logan 2003). SOR Hispanics are poorer, less educated, and less likely to be citizens than white Hispanics. Skin tone also appears to play an important role in Hispanic race reporting: Hispanics who report white tend to have lighter skin tones than those who report BLACK or other (Golash-Boza and Darity 2008).

6. The SOR category was intended to be a small residual category; instead, it makes up 6 percent of the U.S. population and is the third largest category after white and BLACK. Moreover, 97 percent of those who report only SOR are of Hispanic origin.

7. The combined questions and separate questions have very similar proportions for the BLACK, Asian, and American Indian and Pacific Islander alone populations.

8. While Hispanics who report white, BLACK, or SOR have very different experiences and characteristics, this reporting may also be due to skin tone or other phenotypical differences. This type of heterogeneity can be observed within most racial groups.. . . Experiences of AFRICAN AMERICANS who are DESCENDANTs of slaves differ from those of West Indians and AFRICANs who have immigrated to the United States.