DNA Tests May Increase Census Count Of Multiracial Population Genetic ancestry tests, changes to how census responses were categorized and more children born to parents who identify with different racial groups led to a 276% jump in the multiracial population.

The Census Has Revealed A More Multiracial U.S. One Reason? Cheaper DNA Tests

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The latest census results show a dramatic increase in people who identify as more than one race. The number of people who do that has almost quadrupled in a decade. NPR census correspondent Hansi Lo Wang found a reason why.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: There are three main reasons why about 1 in 10 people living in the U.S. were counted as multiracial - more children born to parents who identify with racial groups that are different from one another, changes to how the Census Bureau asked about race and how it sorted people's answers and more people rethinking what they tell the government about their identities.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The DNA summer sale is here.

INSKEEP: Some demographers are now wondering how much of that rethinking is because of commercials like these.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Get your AncestryDNA kit. Spit. Mail it in.

WANG: For years, services like AncestryDNA have been collecting people's spit in plastic tubes. They compare the DNA in your saliva with information they've gathered in their databases and send you reports about the potential roots of your family tree.


KIM TRUJILLO: And I couldn't wait to get my pie chart. The most shocking result was that I'm 26% Native American. I had no idea.

SASHA SHEN JOHFRE: These genetic ancestry tests may be pushing the concept of race to match genetic ancestry more, including information about very distant ancestors.

WANG: Sasha Shen Johfre co-authored a study published in the academic journal Demography. Its findings suggest that compared to people who have not taken DNA ancestry tests, those who have been tested...

JOHFRE: They were almost twice as likely to report three or more races.

WANG: And that could skew census results.

Should people use their DNA ancestry test results to answer the census race question?

WENDY ROTH: I would say no.

WANG: Wendy Roth is a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

ROTH: In and of itself, it doesn't tell you your race or ethnicity.

WANG: Roth's research has found that many people who identify as white but not Latino buy DNA test kits for themselves because they want to claim a certain ancestry, often Native American. But Roth warns these test results come with a lot of caveats.

ROTH: What these companies are telling you is that you have a likelihood of having a certain amount of your genetic markers associated with certain populations more often than others.

WANG: And Roth is concerned about how DNA tests could be affecting the census data used to enforce civil rights laws and measure racial disparities.

ROTH: You're going to have a lot more people who are not part of marginalized groups in terms of their social experiences to be claiming to be part of marginalized groups. And so when it comes to understanding discrimination or inequality, we're going to have very inaccurate estimates.

WANG: Still, some DNA ancestry test-takers say their results have helped them better understand how their family histories have shaped their racial identities, including Jelmarie Maldonado of Manchester, Conn., who's taken two different tests.

So you spit in a tube two times.

JELMARIE MALDONADO: Yes (laughter). It was disgusting. And yes.

WANG: Last year, when it was time to fill out the census, those DNA test results helped start a family fight with Maldonado's mother, Maribel Rodriguez, who's also taken a test.

MARIBEL RODRIGUEZ: We had an interesting conversation about that.

WANG: For the census question about Latino origins, both of them agreed on checking the box for Puerto Rican. Then came the race question.

MALDONADO: I refused to just check the white box.

RODRIGUEZ: And I was kind of like, I always marked it white. And she was like, well, we're not.

MALDONADO: 'Cause it would deny those people that came here to the island and survived all the odds against them for me to be here.

RODRIGUEZ: In Puerto Rico, when I was growing up, we were all white.

MALDONADO: She was like, I'm not Black. I'm like, you have African ancestry in you. I've seen your DNA breakout (laughter).

RODRIGUEZ: She can be very convincing.

WANG: Rodriguez says she was also convinced by her test results that showed a, quote, "ethnicity estimate" with percentages for regions in Africa and Europe, plus what the report called Indigenous Puerto Rico.

RODRIGUEZ: It's palpable, right? You can see that there is a mix of races.

MALDONADO: Seeing percentages there made me realize, OK, I'm more than just one thing. There's so many different people that came to be me.

WANG: Maldonado says she marked for herself and her mother American Indian, Black and white because, like for nearly 34 million people counted in last year's census, one checkbox was not enough.

Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News.


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