The Greater Complexity of Lived Race: An Extension of Harris and Sim


  • *Direct correspondence to J. Scott Brown, Department of Sociology and Gerontology, 375 Upham Hall, Miami University, Oxford, OH 45056 〈〉. This research uses data from Add Health, a program project designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris, and funded by Grant P01-HD31921 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 17 other agencies. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Persons interested in obtaining data files from Add Health should contact Add Health, Carolina Population Center, 123 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, NC 27516-2524 〈〉. This research has been supported by National Institute on Aging Training Grant T32 AG00155 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Objectives. Harris and Sim (2002) recently demonstrated the complexity of lived race by exploring patterns of racial self-identification. They raised important sociological questions about the role of context in racial self-identification, but offered an incomplete picture of ethnic fluidity by excluding Hispanics from their analyses. We address this limitation with data on Hispanics from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health).

Methods. Our social-psychological approach, using compositional analysis, focuses on the lived experience of race and ethnicity as qualitatively similar conceptual categories.

Results. Informed by the cognitive process of social categorization, we find that considerably more individuals show fluidity in racial and ethnic self-identification across contexts than suggested by Harris and Sim.

Conclusions. Harris and Sim's thesis is even more strongly supported by these findings than in their original analysis, and our findings reinforce their challenge to the assumed stability of racial and ethnic measurement in sociology. We conclude by proposing a change in the measurement of race/ethnicity in America.