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Race, Ancestry and Spanish Origin: Findings from the 1980s and Questions for the 1990s

Publication Abstract

Farley, Reynolds. "Race, Ancestry and Spanish Origin: Findings from the 1980s and Questions for the 1990s." PSC Research Report No. 90-192. September 1990.

After giving a brief history of race, ethnicity and ancestry questions and the U.S. Census, this paper examines results from the 1980 census regarding these areas. This census asked every person his or her race, whether or not he/she was Spanish in origin, and an open-ended question about ancestry. The paper focuses primarily on the open-ended ancestry question, presenting the following findings: (1) Just over one-half of those who were asked the open-ended ancestry question wrote one specific origin such as French or German; about one-third wrote two or more, while ten percent left the question blank and six percent simply wrote American for their ancestry. (2) A small number of ancestries accounted for most respondents. The twenty most popular accounted for more than 90 percent. (3) The ancestry question provided little additional or new information for those persons who identified themselves as not-white on the race question or Hispanic on the Spanish origin questions. (4) Response to the ancestry question was strongly influenced by the recency of arrival of the person's family in the U.S., by educational attainment, and by place of residence. (5) The ancestry question fails to identify ethnic groups of whites who are socially or economically disadvantaged. (6) Without the ancestry question, it would have been impossible to describe the origin or ethnicity of the majority of our population, native-born whites not of Spanish-origin.

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