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Perez, Anthony Daniel & Hirschman, Charles (2009). The Changing Racial and Ethnic Composition of the US Population: Emerging American Identities. Population and Development Review, 35(1), 1-51. PMCID: PMC2882688


Images and interpretations of the past, present, and future of the American racial and ethnic landscape are contradictory. Many accounts focus on the increasing diversity that results from immigration and differential natural increase as well as the proliferation of racial and ethnic categories in census data. Less attention has been paid to the formation and erosion of racial and ethnic identities produced by intermarriage and ethnic blending. The framers and custodians of census racial classifications assume a "geographic origins" definition of race and ethnicity, but the de facto measures in censuses and social surveys rely on folk categories that vary over time and are influenced by administrative practices and sociopolitical movements. We illustrate these issues through an in-depth examination of the racial and ethnic reporting by whites, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics in the 2000 census. The emerging pattern, labeled here as the "Americanization" of racial and ethnic identities, and most evident for whites and blacks, is of simplified racial identities with little acknowledgment of complex ancestries. National origin is the predominant mode of reporting racial and ethnic identities among Asians and Hispanics, especially first-generation immigrants. The future of racial and ethnic identities is unknowable, but continued high levels of immigration, intermarriage, and social mobility are likely to blur contemporary divisions and boundaries.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Population and Development Review


Perez, Anthony Daniel
Hirschman, Charles