Codes and Frequencies
RACEA incorporates information from RACEID and RACESR. Prior to 2019, RACEA reports, for 1968-1977, the interviewer-identified race of all persons, and for 1978 forward, the self-reported, main racial background of all persons using the pre-1997 Office of Management and Budget's (OMB's) Statistical Policy Directive No. 15 (Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting). More information on the OMB's Directive 15 can be found at Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity. Users should note that there are significant changes to the collection of information about race beginning in 2019, which impact comparability. Please check here at a later date for more information.
1968-1977 Interviewer-identified race
In 1968 and 1969, in cases in which the interviewer judged a person to have "mixed parentage," the instructions were to report the race of the nonwhite parent when the mixture was white and nonwhite. In the case of mixtures of nonwhite races, unless the "non-Negro race predominates" and "the person is regarded in the community as of the other nonwhite race," the interviewer was instructed to report the race of the person as "Negro." Beginning in 1970, the Field Representative's Manual instructed interviewers to report the race of the person's father for people uncertain how to respond.
Starting in 1970, interviewers were permitted to ask, "What is [person's] race?" in those cases where the interviewer's observation alone was not sufficient to determine the race.
For 1978--1981, the racial category of persons under age 17 was imputed, based on the interviewer's observation.
While the categories included on the survey form remained the same in the post-1995 period, the range of categories identified in the NHIS public use files shrank, due to confidentiality concerns. In addition, there was some fluctuation in the particular racial categories identified in the public use files for 1996 forward. "White," "Black/African American," "Chinese," "Filipino," and some category including "American Indian" were always identified. The category "Asian Indian" was included only in 1997 forward. Several categories with smaller population sizes that had been identified for 1992-1995 (such as "Hawaiian," "Korean," "Vietnamese," "Japanese," "Samoan," and "Guamanian") were subsumed into a general category such as "Other Asian or Pacific Islander" (for 1996-1998) or "Other Asian" (for 1999 forward).
Beginning in 1999, the "Other Asian or Pacific Islander" category became the more restricted "Other Asian" category. Regarding this change, the 1999 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) Public Use Data Release: NHIS Survey Description, Appendix II ("Race and Hispanic Origin in the 1999 NHIS"), p. 69, states: "In compliance with the new race and ethnicity standards, the category 'Asian and Pacific Islander' is now split into two distinct categories, 'Asian' versus 'Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander' (NHOPI), for data collection. Because confidentiality regulations on minimum sample size do not permit the NHIS to release data for Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders or some of the Asian subgroups separately, data are provided for the three largest Asian subpopulation groups, while the 'Other Asian' category combines groups that cannot be shown separately." Thus, the Pacific Islander groups, including Native Hawaiian and Samoan, amongst others, are included in the "Other Race" group.
Although "American Indian" is a category that occurs throughout the post-1977 period, the same is not true of "Alaskan Native"/"Eskimo" and "Aleut." In some years, the NHIS treated the category of "Alaskan Native"/"Eskimo" as distinct from "Aleut" (1979-1995). In one year, 1996, both categories were excluded, and people who self-identified as either were classified as "Other Race." From 1997-1998, the categories were subsumed under "American Indian." Finally, in 1999 forward, there was a general category, "American Indian, Alaska Native." This new general category is consistent with the 1997, revised OMB standards, in which the expression "Alaska Native" replaces the earlier "Alaskan Native," and is constituted by both Aleuts and Eskimos.
For 1996 forward, there are two other possible interpretations of "Other" in those cases where the term modifies some general category (i.e., 1996-1998's "Other Asian or Pacific Islander" and "Other Asian" for 1999 forward). First, "Other" sometimes refers to self-selection of a racial category which was not listed on the flashcard associated with the question, but which falls under a more general, general heading ("Asian or Pacific Islander" for 1996-1998, and "Other Asian" for 1999 forward). Second, "Other" sometimes refers to self-selection of a racial category listed on the flashcard (e.g., "Vietnamese"), which is suppressed for confidentiality reasons in the public release files, but which falls under the more general, geographic heading ("Asian or Pacific Islander" for 1996-1998, and "Other Asian" for 1999 forward).
Beginning in 2003, the "Other Race" category was dropped from the NHIS public use files, and a new category, "Primary Race Not Releasable," was added, to preserve the privacy of people whose racial category had very few members in the survey. As noted on the National Center for Health Statistic's Race and Hispanic Origin Information home page, beginning "with the 2003 NHIS, 'Other race' is no longer coded as a separate race response. Any responses that fall into this category are treated as missing, and the race is imputed if this is the only race response. In cases where 'Other race' is mentioned along with one or more OMB race groups, the 'Other race' response is dropped and the OMB race group information is retained."
In 2019, the amount of detail available about race on the NHIS public use files was reduced substantially, to four single race categories, one multiple race category (AIAN and another race), and a combined "other single and multiple races" category. NCHS decided to reduce the amount of detail on race available on the public use files because limited information on more detailed geography, urbanization level (URBRRL), was re-introduced to the public use file in 2019.
Sometimes additional specificity is needed. This additional specificity is provided by the third digit. For example, the first digit "4" is used for any racial category falling under the general heading of "Asian or Pacific Islander." Since subgroups falling under this heading can be either "Asian" or "Pacific Islander," the second digit is used to indicate either "Asian" (a second digit of "1") or "Pacific Islander" (a second digit of "2"). The third digit distinguishes detail or labels available only in some years. For example, "400" refers to "Asian or Pacific Islander," "410" to "Asian," "411" to "Chinese," "420" to "Pacific Islander," and "421" to "Hawaiian."
As noted above, in cases where respondents chose some racial category not provided by the NHIS, they were asked to specify that other category and were marked as "Another Group not Listed" by the interviewer. Because the definition of "Other Race" varies across years, IHIS composite codes use "500" as a general designation for "Other Race," and single, second digit increases in the 500s as specifications of different senses of "Other Race" (e.g., "510" for "Other Race (1968-1977)," "520" for "Other Race (1978)," and "530" for "Other Race (1979-1991)"). As discussed in detail in the previous section, the meaning of "Other" depends on which specific race groups are identified in a given year. Users should also keep in mind that in 1968-1977, "Other Race" is relative to interviewer-reported race, while in 1978 forward, it refers to self-selected race. Generally, users can treat "Other" categories with a common first digit of "5" as equivalent. The exception to this is the 1999-2003 period, where people who self-identify as "Pacific Islanders" are, in the NHIS public use files, categorized as either "Other Race" (1999-2002), or as "Primary Race Not Releasable" (2003 forward).
For 1997-1999, the single "Unknown" in the 1978-1996 NHIS public use files was subdivided into "Unknown-Refused," "Unknown-Not Ascertained," and "Unknown-Don't Know." "Unknown" in any form was dropped beginning in 2000. The reason for this, as noted in the National Center for Health Statistic's Race and Hispanic Origin Information home page, is that in "the 2000 survey year, the NHIS began implementation of hot-deck imputation of race and Hispanic origin, in order to improve the overall quality of the data. Similar to the editing procedures, the imputation procedures are based on methods developed by the U.S. Bureau of the Census. Race and Hispanic origin are first imputed from within a household, if available. If not, race and Hispanic origin are imputed between households which are matched by Hispanic origin within a small geographic area." Thus, starting in 2000, all persons in the IPUMS NHIS are a member of some racial category.
There are several other variables researchers may find useful in conjunction with, or as an alternative to, RACEA. RACESR (1978 forward) provides information on self-reported, main racial background, using the pre-1997 Office of Management and Budget's (OMB's) Statistical Policy Directive No. 15, Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting. RACEID (1968-1979) reports the interviewer-identified race of all persons. RACENEW (1999 forward) provides information on self-reported, main racial background of all persons, using the October 30, 1997 revision of Statistical Policy Directive No. 15, Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting. RACEBR (1999-2018) is a bridge race variable linking up racial categories using pre-1997 revised Office of Management and Budget standards with racial categories for 1999 forward, using post-1997 Office of Management and Budget standards.
More information about race and Hispanic ethnicity variables appearing in the NHIS can be found on the National Center for Health Statistic's Race and Hispanic Origin Information home page.
Questionnaire design changes introduced in 2019 limit comparability with earlier years. The NHIS questionnaire was substantially redesigned in 2019 to introduce a different data collection structure and new content. For more information on changes in terminology, universes, and data collection methods beginning in 2019, please see the user note.
- 1963-1981: All persons (Race of persons under age 17 imputed by interviewer).
- 1982-2018: All persons.
- 2019-2020: Sample children age 0-17 and sample adults age 18+.