Millions Change Race, Ethnicity in Census After 2010 Changes

Millions of Americans who filled out the 2000 census changed their race or Hispanic-origin categories when they filed their 2010 census, according to new research presented at the annual Population Association of America meeting.

Hispanics, as well as Americans of mixed race, American Indians and Pacific Islanders were those most likely to switch their answer. This comes after changes made by the Census; in an effort to encourage people to identify with a specific group instead of answering "some other race," the 2010 census posed new instructions that declared that Hispanic ethnicity wasn't a race.

In the 2010 census, 10 million out of 168 million Americans checked a different box in the Hispanic-origin or different race box than they had in the 2000 census. Responses by Hispanics led the total change, with 2.5 million Americans changing from Hispanic and "some other race" to Hispanic and white, according to preliminary data. Conversely, 1.3 million people made the switch from Hispanic and white to Hispanic and "some other race."

Smaller race groups also saw changes between the two census forms. Only one-third of Americans who checked more than one race in 2000 said the same in 2010.

Writing on these changes, Pew Research's D'Vera Cohn said that by some measures, "the data provide more evidence of Americans’ puzzlement about how the census asks separately about race and ethnicity." Cohn said the changes in the responses could also be due to "evolving self-identity or benefits associated with being identified with some groups."

--Nadia Sikander