More Americans Consider Themselves Multiracial

Emily Alpert, Los Angeles Times, June 12, 2013

The number of Americans who consider themselves multiracial has grown faster than any other racial group nationwide, new Census Bureau data reveal, a sign of slow but momentous shifts in the way that Americans think about race.

Mixed or multiracial people are still just a small slice of the American public, but their numbers jumped 6.6% between 2010 and 2012 — four times as fast as the national population, according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Experts say their ranks will only continue to swell.

Researchers give two reasons for the rise: More people are wedding across racial lines than in decades past, bringing about more multiracial children. Roughly 15% of new marriages were interracial in 2010, compared with 6.7% in 1980, the Pew Research Center found last year. Census estimates show that children and teens were nearly three times as likely as adults to be multiracial, with 4.8% of people 18 or younger being identified as two or more races last year.

On top of that, experts say people who were long prodded to think of themselves as only “black” or “white” or “Asian” are becoming more comfortable choosing more than one race.

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The census started allowing Americans to select two or more races only recently, at the turn of this century — an example of how attitudes have lagged behind the reality of mixed race. The country is now led by a president with an African father and a white mother. President Obama identified himself solely as “black” on the last census, but his racially mingled family is a celebrated part of his story.

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The new estimates show multiracial people make up 2.4% of the national population, totaling more than 7.5 million people. Many scholars believe it is actually a much bigger group, particularly when it comes to people who have Hispanic roots. The census does not count Hispanics as a race, so people who see themselves as a mix of Hispanic and another race may end up marking off only one race in that section of the census — and not be counted as “two or more races.”

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The new estimates do not count the category of “some other race,” which is also likely to reduce the count of multiracial people. In addition, University of Minnesota sociologists found that even after the census started allowing people to mark more than one race, surprising numbers of children who had parents of different races were not being reported as multiracial — another sign that there are more mixed people than are counted.

Scholars caution the trend does not mean race barriers are collapsing. Marriage is still much more likely between people of the same race. Rafla-Yuan and other mixed students are still dogged by the persistent question: “What are you?”

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