Codes and Frequencies
RACENEW provides information on self-reported, main racial background of sample adults and sample children (and prior to 2019, all persons), using the October 30, 1997 revision of Statistical Policy Directive No. 15, Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting.
Categories under 1997 Directive
According to the October 30, 1997 Federal Register notice, "the revision of Statistical Policy Directive No. 15, Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting" established "five minimum categories for data on race: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and White."
Two of the five minimum categories established by the 1997 OMB revision are comparable in the original NHIS public use files and in IPUMS NHIS for 1999 forward: White, and Black/African American.
People who self-reported their main racial background as belonging to the "Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander" group were, for reasons of confidentiality due to the relatively small numbers, included in the 1999-2002 "Other Race" category, the 2003-2018 "Race Group Not Releasable" category, 2019 forward "Other Race and Multiple Race" category.
Treatment of Multiple Race and Other Race
In 1999, all persons self-reporting multiple races were included in the "Multiple Race" category. This changed in 2000.
Starting in 2000, persons self-reporting multiple Asian races were coded as "Asian"; persons self-reporting multiple American Indian/Alaskan Native races were coded as "American Indian/Alaskan Native"; and persons reporting any other combination of multiple races were coded "Multiple Race." Thus, for 2000 forward, the category of "Asian" included both persons whose self-reported main racial background categorized them as Asian (e.g., "Vietnamese," "Japanese"), and persons reporting multiple races with no main race, all of which categorized them as Asian (e.g., both "Vietnamese" and "Korean"). Similarly, for 2000 forward, the category of "American Indian/Alaskan Native" included both persons whose self-reported main racial background categorized them as American Indian/Alaskan Native (e.g., "Cherokee," "Eskimo") and persons reporting multiple races with no main race, all of which categorized them as American Indian/Alaskan Native (e.g., both "Cherokee" and "Alaskan Native"). In contrast, in 1999, the categories of "Asian" and "American Indian/Alaskan Native" included only persons self-reporting a single, main racial background.
Between 2003 and 2018, the "Other Race" category was dropped from the NHIS public use files.
In that year, 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 (e.g., Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Island people). 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."
The 1997-1999 subdivision of "Unknown" into "Unknown-Refused," "Unknown-Not Ascertained," and "Unknown-Don't Know," was dropped between 2000 and 2018.
The reason for this, as noted in the National Center for Health Statistic's Race and Hispanic Origin Information home page, is as follows:
Thus, from 2000-2018, all persons in IPUMS NHIS are a member of some racial category.
There are several other variables researchers may find useful in conjunction with RACENEW. RACEA provides information on interviewer-reported or self-reported racial categories from 1969 forward, using the pre-1997 revised Office of Management and Budget standards. RACEID reports the interviewer-identified race of all persons from 1969-1979. RACESR provides information on self-reported racial categories from 1978-2018, using the pre-1997 revised Office of Management and Budget standards. RACEBR is a bridge race variable linking racial categories using pre-1997 revised Office of Management and Budget standards with racial categories for 1999-2018, 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.
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.
- 1999-2018: All persons.
- 2019-2020: Sample adults age 18+ and sample children age 0-17.