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Campbell, and Jennifer Eggerling-Boeck Our picture of racial and ethnic disparities in the health of older Americans is strongly influenced by the methods of collecting data on race and ethnicity. At one level there is a good deal of consistency in data collection. Most Americans and most researchers have in mind a general categorical scheme that includes whites, blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and American Indians.
Most Americans and nearly all researchers are also aware that these general categories disguise significant heterogeneity within each of these major groups. To the extent possible, recent research has attempted to identify and compare subgroups within each of the major racial and ethnic groups, making distinctions by country of origin, nativity, and generation within the United States.
Most researchers generally agree that these categories are primarily social constructions that have changed and will continue to change over time.
Once we begin to explore more deeply the ways in which data on the elderly population are collected, however, we discover inconsistency across data sets and time.
Part of this variation is from inconsistency in the way that Americans think and talk about race and ethnicity. Race and ethnicity are words that carry heavy intellectual and political baggage, and issues surrounding racial and ethnic identities are often contested within and across groups.
The debate over racial and ethnic categories prior to the Census is one of the most recent, but by no means the only, example of these contests. Several advocacy groups pressured the Office of Management and Budget OMB to revise its racial and ethnic categories and data collection schemes see Farley,and Rodriguez,for discussions of the controversies.
This resulted in several significant changes, including the most well-known change, which allowed individuals to choose more than one racial category in the Census. Although most national and many local data collection efforts follow the federal guidelines, they vary in the way in which questions are constructed and in the order in which they appear in the questionnaire or interview schedule.
Such seemingly trivial differences in measurement lead to different distributions of responses about racial and ethnic identity Hirschman, Alba, and Farley, Another inconsistency that has troubled health researchers is the collection of racial and ethnic data using different criteria across data sources.
A good example of this is the mismatch between self-selected race which is used in most data sets and the observer-selected race that is often used for death certificates. Comparisons between next-of-kin racial identifications and death certificates have shown that a large proportion of, for example, black Hispanics are misidentified on death certificates.
This leads to a significant overestimate of their life expectancy because the race-specific mortality rates are inaccurate Swallen and Guend, The purpose of this chapter is to examine the implications of how we measure racial and ethnic identity for our understanding of racial and ethnic disparities in health, especially among the elderly.
We first look at what the social science literature has to say about the ways in which individuals and society construct racial and ethnic identities.
Second, we examine how information on race and ethnicity is recorded in some of the major federal data sets used to study health disparities among the elderly.
We then discuss some of the major problems in our national system of collecting and reporting on health disparities. We conclude with some recommendations for achieving greater consistency in the collection and reporting of racial and ethnic information.
Prior to the 20th century, racial and ethnic groups were perceived as permanent, biological types. Scholars of race and ethnicity turned to Biblical passages and, later, theories of natural history to explain the origins of differences among ethnic and racial groups Banton, They concluded that these group differences were natural and immutable.
The work of Franz Boas shifted the model describing racial and ethnic differences from one stressing biology to one that focused on cultural differences Cornell and Hartmann, This shift implied that racial and ethnic groups were dynamic rather than static.
These paradigmatic changes influenced the work on race in the emerging Chicago School of Sociology, which led to an assimilationist model of racial and ethnic identities Cornell and Hartmann, In this model, the inherent flexibility of racial and ethnic identities would eventually lead to the assimilation of distinctive racial and ethnic minority groups into the mainstream culture.
However, developments in the middle of the 20th century, such as strengthening ethnic and racial conflicts, forced social scientists to reconsider the question of racial and ethnic identities. Two paradigms, primordialism and circumstantialism, emerged in the post-assimilationist era Cornell and Hartmann, Those favoring circumstantialism claimed that individuals and groups claim ethnic or racial identities when these identities are in some way advantageous.
As more and more social scientific research investigated racial and ethnic identities, it became clear that neither model was able to fully explain the complexities of these phenomena.
The most prevalent current view on racial and ethnic identities is a social constructionist model Banton, ; Cornell and Hartmann, ; Nagel, Census has classified people into racial groups since its origin in However, the list of categories and the method of measuring race or ethnicity has changed many times in the intervening decades, as the political and economic forces shaping the collection of racial data have changed.
In early Censuses, enumerators answered the race question based on their perception of the individual. Bureau of the Census, In later years more specific categories for those of mixed African American and white descent, such as mulatto, quadroon, and octoroon, were used Lee, Asian groups have been listed on the form since the late s.
Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino were the first Asian groups to appear on the Census; later Korean, Vietnamese, Asian Indian, and other Asian groups were added to the list.
American Indians were included as a separate group beginning in The Census question measuring the Hispanic population has also varied over time.
Enumerators have used a Spanish surname, the use of the Spanish language in the home, and the birthplace of the respondent or parents to indicate Hispanic ethnicity.Should Race Classification change from white to non-whites?
Eliminate the "Black or African American," Hispanic ethnicity? Of The Classifications Within In Shades By Mary Mebane! While other rich people went bankrupt over night. With all there money in shares and then the stock market going bust in October In her essay "Shades of Black", Mary Mebane uses her personal experiences to analyze the different divisions and classifications within the African-American race.
From MebaneÂ’s essay, it is clear to see that division and classification primarily effect black women. Erma Faye Stewart is an African American mother of two childre Stewart was arrested during a drug sweep in Hearne, Texas.
After spending in week in . -changes in class,race, and gender systems leave African american women disproportionately separated, divorced, and solely responsible for their children What does research show about Asian families?
In her essay "Shades of Black", Mary Mebane uses her personal experiences to analyze the different divisions and classifications within the African-American race. From Mebane s essay, it is clear to see that division and classification primarily effect black women.