Categorical Imperatives: The Interaction of Latino and Racial Identification


  • * Direct correspondence to Mary E. Campbell, Sociology Department, University of Iowa, W140 Seashore Hall, Iowa City, IA 52242 〈〉. The first author will share all data and coding information with those who wish to replicate this study. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2005 Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America. The authors thank Steven Hitlin and Carolyn Liebler for their helpful comments, as well as three anonymous reviewers and the editor.


Objective. Most large data sets solicit “ethnic” identification and “racial” identification in separate questions. We test the relative salience of these two identifications by exploring whether individuals who chose both a Latino “ethnic” label and a “racial” label on separate survey questions still chose both of these labels when they were given a single combined question about their racial and ethnic origins.

Methods. Using the May 1995 Race and Ethnicity Supplement to the Current Population Survey, we estimate a multinomial logit model of identification choices.

Results. We find that most individuals who chose a Latino label and a racial label chose a Latino-only identification. Selection of multiple labels was more common for Latinos than non-Latinos, however. Language use, local ethnic context, national origin, and age were all significantly related to these identification choices.

Conclusion. The format of “race” and “ethnicity” questions on surveys has significant implications for the identification patterns of Latinos.