Changing Answers but Not Identities: A Qualitative Investigation of Race Responses in a Longitudinal Survey

Kelsey Poss, University of Minnesota
Carolyn A. Liebler, University of Minnesota

We seek to understand why people change their race responses over time. We use longitudinal survey responses to selectively recruit individuals for in-depth interviews about the reasons behind their changing responses to questions about their race(s) and primary racial or ethnic identities between 1988 and 2007. We find a wide variety of changes in 33 individuals’ answers to questions about their race, ancestry and Hispanic origin. To date, we have completed in-depth interviews with nine of these individuals. In many cases, respondents do not remember changing their answers and do not consider themselves to have changed their identities. Respondents’ post-hoc accounts of varied answers often focus on events or thoughts near the time of the survey and on details of question-wording. Many also report a rationalized process for selective reporting of their race(s), depending on the purpose of the form (e.g., job application versus social club).

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Presented in Session 123: Measurement of Race and Ethnicity