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2020 Census Frequently Asked Questions About Race and Ethnicity

General Information

The 2020 Census collects race and ethnicity data in accordance with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) 1997 Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity [PDF <1.0 MB]. The U.S. Census Bureau must adhere to the 1997 OMB standards.

The OMB standards require two separate race and ethnicity questions for self-response. The standards require the ethnicity question to be collected first before the race question.

The 1997 OMB standards require two minimum categories for data on ethnicity:

  1. Hispanic or Latino
  2. Not Hispanic or Latino

The 1997 OMB standards require five minimum categories for data on race:

  1. American Indian or Alaska Native
  2. Asian
  3. Black or African American
  4. Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
  5. White

The decennial census is required by Congress to use the Some Other Race category.

Additionally, the OMB standards encourage the collection of detailed responses, and to address this, new examples and write-in areas were added to the 2020 Census ethnicity question and race question to give respondents from all backgrounds the opportunity to self-identify their racial/ethnic identities in the 2020 Census. For the 2020 Census, we collected detailed responses for all major categories (Hispanic, White, Black or African American, Asian, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and Some Other Race). In turn, this will provide the ability to produce detailed tabulations for myriad population groups in the United States, such as German, Lebanese, Mexican, Jamaican, Nigerian, Chinese, Navajo, Samoan, Brazilian, etc.

More information about the 2020 Census questions on race and ethnicity is available on our Additional Instructions for Respondents page.

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The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requires two minimum categories for data on ethnicity (Hispanic or Latino and Not Hispanic or Latino) and five minimum categories on race (American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander and White). The Census Bureau is also required by Congress to use the category “Some Other Race.” People may report multiple races.

The OMB 1997 Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity’s minimum categories for data on race and ethnicity for Federal statistics, program administrative reporting, and civil rights compliance reporting are defined as follows:

  • American Indian or Alaska Native: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.
  • Asian: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.  
  • Black or African American: A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa.
  • Hispanic or Latino: A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.  
  • White: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.

The race and ethnicity categories generally reflect social definitions in the U.S. and are not an attempt to define race and ethnicity biologically, anthropologically, or genetically. We recognize that the race and ethnicity categories include racial, ethnic, and national origins and sociocultural groups.

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An individual’s responses to the race and ethnicity questions are based on self-identification. The Census Bureau does not tell individuals which boxes to mark or what origin or origins to write in.

People who identify with more than one race may choose to provide multiple races in response to the race question. For example, if a respondent identifies as "Asian" and "White," they may respond to the question on race by checking the appropriate boxes that describe their racial identities and/or writing in these identities on the spaces provided.

More information about the 2020 Census questions on race and ethnicity is available on our Additional Instructions for Respondents page.

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Ensure Equal Opportunity: We ask about the Hispanic or Latino origin of community members to help governments and communities enforce antidiscrimination laws, regulations, and policies. For example, data on the Hispanic population are used to:

  • Establish and evaluate the guidelines for federal affirmative action plans under the Federal Equal Opportunity Recruitment Program.
  • Monitor compliance with the Voting Rights Act.
  • Monitor and enforce equal employment opportunities under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Identify segments of the population who may not be getting needed medical services under the Public Health Service Act.

Understand Changes: Researchers, advocacy groups, and policymakers are interested in knowing if the distribution of the Hispanic and non-Hispanic population changes by age, sex, relationship, and housing tenure.

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These data are required for federal and state programs and are critical factors in the basic research behind numerous policies, particularly for civil rights. Hispanic origin data are used in planning and funding government programs that provide funds or services for specific groups. These data are also used to evaluate government programs and policies to ensure they fairly and equitably serve the needs of the Hispanic population and to monitor compliance with antidiscrimination laws, regulations, and policies. States also use these data to meet legislative redistricting requirements.

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The 2020 Census used the required two separate questions (one for Hispanic or Latino origin and one for race) to collect the races and ethnicities of the U.S. population— following the standards set by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 1997.

Figure. 2020 Census Question on Hispanic Origin

View of the Hispanic origin question as it appeared on the 2020 Census Questionnaire

Figure. 2020 Census Question on Race

View of the Race question as it appeared on the 2020 Census Questionnaire

More information about the 2020 Census questions on race and ethnicity is available on our Additional Instructions for Respondents page.

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Ensure Equal Opportunity: Knowing the races of community members helps governments and communities enforce antidiscrimination laws, regulations, and policies. For example, race data are used in the following ways:

  • Establish and evaluate the guidelines for federal affirmative action plans under the Federal Equal Opportunity Recruitment Program.
  • Monitor compliance with the Voting Rights Act.
  • Monitor and enforce equal employment opportunities under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Identify segments of the population who may not be getting needed medical services under the Public Health Service Act.

Understand Changes: Researchers, advocacy groups, and policymakers are interested in knowing if the distribution of the different racial groups changes by age, sex, relationship, and housing tenure.

Administer Programs for Specific Groups: Knowing how many people are eligible to participate in certain programs helps communities, including tribal governments, ensure that programs are operating as intended. For example, the Indian Housing Block Grant program, Indian Community Development Block Grant program, and Indian Health Service all depend on accurate statistics of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Data for the American Indian and Alaska Native population come from the question about a person’s race.

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These data are required for federal, state, and tribal programs and are critical factors in the basic research behind numerous policies, particularly for civil rights. Race data are used in planning and funding government programs that provide funds or services for specific groups. These data are also used to evaluate government programs and policies to ensure they fairly and equitably serve the needs of all racial groups and to monitor compliance with antidiscrimination laws, regulations, and policies. States also use these data to meet legislative redistricting requirements.

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About the Categories

The U.S. Census Bureau collects race data in accordance with the 1997 Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity [PDF <1.0 MB} directed by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The Census Bureau, and all other Federal statistical agencies, must adhere to the 1997 OMB Standards.

The 1997 OMB Standards define “White” as “A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.” Therefore, any MENA responses, such as Egyptian or Lebanese, are classified as White. Responses are based on self-identification.

The Census Bureau conducted extensive research and outreach this past decade, including the 2015 National Content Test: Race and Ethnicity Analysis Report, on how to improve race and ethnicity information collections so that these statistics better measure our nation’s population. This research identified that a combined race and ethnicity question with a dedicated MENA category is the optimal design for improving race and ethnicity data (in comparison to separate questions designs).

While a separate “Middle Eastern or North African” (or MENA) response category was not included, detailed MENA responses were elicited, collected, and coded. Per the 1997 OMB standards, MENA responses are classified as part of the White racial category.

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The U.S. Census Bureau collects race data in accordance with the 1997 Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity [PDF <1.0 MB] directed by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The Census Bureau must adhere to the 1997 OMB Standards.

The 1997 OMB Standards define “White” as “A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.” Therefore, Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) responses such as Lebanese or Egyptian are classified as White.

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The release schedule for the remaining 2020 Census data products is currently under development.  The Census Bureau will notify the public as more details and schedules become available. Sign up to receive updates.

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The 1997 OMB standards [PDF <1.0 MB] encourage the collection of detailed responses, and to address this, new examples and write-in areas were added to the 2020 Census ethnicity question and race question to give respondents from all backgrounds the opportunity to self-identify their racial/ethnic identities in the 2020 Census. For the 2020 Census, we collected detailed responses for all major categories (Hispanic, White, Black or African American, Asian, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and Some Other Race). In turn, this will provide the ability to produce detailed tabulations for myriad population groups in the United States, such as German, Lebanese, Mexican, Jamaican, Nigerian, Chinese, Navajo, Samoan, Brazilian, etc.

More information about the 2020 Census questions on race and ethnicity is available on our Additional Instructions for Respondents page.

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The race categories on the 2020 Census were listed in order of population size. The 2020 Census race question listed the White racial category first because it is the largest racial population group in the United States.

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The 2020 Census examples for each racial or ethnic group represent the largest population groups and the geographic diversity of each racial or ethnic group, as defined by the 1997 OMB standards [PDF <1.0 MB]. The examples were tested in our research last decade, beginning with the 2015 National Content Test and the 2020 Census designs were implemented in the 2018 Census Test.

More information about the 2020 Census questions on race and ethnicity is available on our Additional Instructions for Respondents page.

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Our research after the 2010 Census found that people were reporting longer and more detailed responses to the questions. For the 2020 Census, we aimed to reflect more fully and accurately the complex details of how people identify their race and ethnicity. Based on further research, testing, and outreach throughout the past decade, we changed how we captured and coded responses for the 2020 Census Hispanic origin and race questions. For the 2020 Census, we increased the number of characters captured from 30 to 200, which allowed us to capture and fully recognize longer write-in responses.

More information about these improvements is available in the Improvements to the 2020 Census Race and Hispanic Origin Question Designs, Data Processing, and Coding Procedures blog.

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The 2020 Census collects race and ethnicity data in accordance with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) 1997 Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity [PDF <1.0 MB] The U.S. Census Bureau must adhere to the 1997 OMB standards.

This question is asked separately because people of Hispanic or Latino origin may be of any race(s) in accordance with the 1997 OMB standards.

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2030 Census Research

The Census Bureau remains committed to improving the accuracy and reliability of census results by researching approaches that more accurately measure and reflect how people self-identify. We are beginning to think through our research and testing needs as we move towards 2030, which will also include discussions with stakeholders and OMB. As we develop plans for the 2030 Census, pending resources and the availability of funding, Census Bureau experts will evaluate the results of the 2020 Census ethnicity and race data and consult with advisors, stakeholders, and our colleagues at OMB and Federal statistical agencies on potential new areas for future research.

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Our research last decade was undertaken to help improve the questions we ask, as well as the resulting data, so they better reflect the changing and complex ways in which people see themselves and identify racially and/or ethnically.  Our research acknowledges that a growing number of people find the current ethnicity and race categories and questions confusing or wish to see their own specific group reflected on the census.  The Census Bureau remains committed to improving the accuracy and reliability of census results by researching approaches that more accurately measure and reflect how people self-identify. We are beginning to think through our research and testing needs as we move towards 2030, which will also include discussions with stakeholders and OMB. As we develop plans for the 2030 Census, pending resources and the availability of funding, Census Bureau experts will evaluate the results of the 2020 Census ethnicity and race data and consult with advisors, stakeholders, and our colleagues at OMB and Federal statistical agencies on potential new areas for future research.

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The Census Bureau is beginning to think through our research and testing needs as we move towards 2030, which will also include discussions with stakeholders and OMB. As we develop plans for the 2030 Census, pending resources and the availability of funding, Census Bureau experts will evaluate the results of the 2020 Census ethnicity and race data and consult with advisors, stakeholders, and our colleagues at OMB and Federal statistical agencies on potential new areas for future research.

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The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) 1997 Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity [PDF <1.0 MB] require two separate questions for self-response. The 1997 OMB standards require the ethnicity question to be collected first before the race question. The U.S. Census Bureau must adhere to the 1997 OMB standards.

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Additional Information

The 1997 OMB standards defined “Hispanic or Latino” as “A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.””

Though many respondents expect to see a Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish category on the race question, this question is asked separately because people of Hispanic origin may be of any race(s) in accordance with the 1997 OMB standards [PDF <1.0 MB]. The U.S. Census Bureau must adhere to the 1997 OMB standards.

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Hispanic or Latino responses to the race question are coded and tabulated as part of the Some Other Race category, as Hispanic or Latino is not considered a race in the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s 1997 Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity [PDF <1.0 MB].

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In 2020, we used 2010 Census responses to fill in missing values for sex, age, Hispanic origin and race. Plus, we used information from the American Community Survey, Social Security Administration (such as records from Social Security card applications), other federal administrative records, and commercial housing tax and deed information to assign missing characteristics.

If Hispanic origin was missing, we used responses from the race question. For example, if a respondent reported “Cuban” in the race question, then we would code a response of “Yes, Cuban” for the Hispanic origin question. Similarly, if race was missing, we used responses from the Hispanic origin question. We also assigned Hispanic origin and race from prior American Community Survey or 2010 Census responses and other administrative records.

We turn to allocation when we can’t determine missing responses from other information provided for that same person living in a household or group quarters. For people living in households, we fill it in using information from other household members. For example, we use information from a parent if they report their race but do not provide it for their child. If we cannot find information from a household member, we will allocate using information from similar nearby households. For more information, visit How We Complete the Census When Demographic and Housing Characteristics Are Missing.

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The 1997 OMB standards [PDF <1.0 MB] allow for the selection of one or more racial designations.

People who identify with more than one race may choose to provide multiple races in response to the race question. For example, if a respondent identifies as "Asian" and "White," they may respond to the question on race by checking the appropriate boxes that describe their racial identities and/or writing in these identities on the spaces provided.

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To frame the discussion of the racial and ethnic composition of the United States, we use the concepts of race alone, race in combination, and Hispanic origin by race. These concepts have been in place since the 2000 Census. In the 2020 Census we reported that, overall, 235.4 million people reported White alone or in combination with another group. 

In the 2020 Census, 204.3 million people identified as White alone (61.6% of all people living in the U.S.). Together with the 31.1 million people who identified as  White in combination with another race group, the White alone or in combination population comprised 235.4 million people (71% of the total population). Although the White alone population decreased by 8.6% since 2010, the White in combination population saw a 316% increase during the same period. The White population remained the largest race or ethnicity group in the United States.

Another way to examine data on race and ethnicity is to cross-tabulate Hispanic or Latino origin by race statistics. In 2020, the White alone non-Hispanic population was the most prevalent racial ethnic group in the United States, at 191.7 million people (57.8% of the total U.S. population). 

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Information on race is required for many Federal programs and is critical in making policy decisions, particularly for civil rights. States use these data to meet legislative redistricting principles. Race data also are used to promote equal employment opportunities and to assess racial disparities in health and environmental risks.

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The Census Bureau collects race data in accordance with guidelines provided by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, and these data are based on self-identification. The racial categories included in the census questionnaire generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country, and not an attempt to define race biologically, anthropologically or genetically. People may choose to report more than one race to indicate their racial identity, such as “American Indian” and “White.” People who identify their origin as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be of any race. In addition, it is recognized that the categories of the race item include both racial and national origin or socio-cultural groups. People could choose more than one race category when responding.

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