Ethnic groups

This discussion of ethnic groups applies to the 2000 and 2010 decennial censuses, Population Estimates Program and the American Community Survey 2004 and later years, unless otherwise stated. For detailed information about race and ethnic groups see the technical documentation for each survey or census.


There are two minimum categories for ethnicity: Hispanic or Latino and Not Hispanic or Latino. The federal government considers race and Hispanic origin to be two separate and distinct concepts. Hispanics and Latinos may be of any race.



The responses in the 1990 census showed that the placement of the question on Hispanic origin may have contributed to some confusion about the federal government's distinction between race and ethnicity. In the 1990 census the question on race appeared before the question on Hispanic origin, with two intervening questions, and about 40% of the respondents who selected "Other Race" wrote in a Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. To highlight the distinction between race and Hispanic origin beginning with Census 2000, the question on race was placed after the question on Hispanic origin. Also, there was a note to respondents instructing them to answer both questions.


Comparing American Community Survey and Decennial Census Data

To learn more about comparing decennial census data and American Community Survey data see the technical documentation for the specific decennial census, i.e., 2010 Census, Census 2000, 1990 Census of Population and Housing, and the American Community Survey year of interest.


How Data on Race and Hispanic Origin are Used

Many federal programs are put into effect based on the race data obtained from the decennial census (i.e., promoting equal employment opportunities; assessing racial disparities in health and environmental risks). Race data are also critical for the basic research behind many policy decisions. States require these data to meet legislative redistricting requirements. The data are needed to monitor compliance with the Voting Rights Act by local jurisdictions.


Data on ethnic groups are important for putting into effect a number of federal statutes (i.e., enforcing bilingual election rules under the Voting Rights Act; monitoring and enforcing equal employment opportunities under the Civil Rights Act). Data on Ethnic Groups are also needed by local governments to run programs and meet legislative requirements (i.e., identifying segments of the population who may not be receiving medical services under the Public Health Act; evaluating whether financial institutions are meeting the credit needs of minority populations under the Community Reinvestment Act).


Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting

The Race and Ethnic standards were developed by the Office of Management and Budget in cooperation with Federal agencies to provide consistent data on race and ethnicity throughout the Federal Government. The development of the data standards stem in large measure from new responsibilities to enforce civil rights laws.


The categories are designed for collecting data on the race and ethnicity of broad population groups in this country. They are based on social and political considerations -- not anthropological or scientific ones. Furthermore, the race categories include both racial and national-origin groups.


Related terms: Ancestry, Hispanic or Latino origin, Race


Related help topics: Search Using Filters by Population Groups