Inheriting Race: The Classification of U.S. Newborns in the ECLS-B

Marcel Paret, University of California, Berkeley
Aliya Saperstein, University of California, Berkeley

Do parents pass on race to their children in the way predicted by biological reasoning, where the child is the sum of the parents’ characteristics? Or do parents’ descriptions of their children demonstrate the fluidity and instability expected if race is a “social construct?” Using recently released data from the 2001 birth cohort of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, we find that while the majority of U.S. newborns are described as a biological notion of race would predict, a nontrivial proportion are not. These children are more likely to match their father’s race than their mother’s and they are less likely to be described as white. Foreign-born parents and their children are also less likely to have matching descriptions than native-born parents and their children. These findings have implications for the measurement of race and ethnicity and for understanding intergenerational processes of racial and ethnic formation.

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Presented in Session 60: Measurement of Race and Ethnicity