Study: Gender Impacts Racial Identity for Biracial People

By Kenrya Rankin Jan 29, 2016

New research says that gender matters when it comes to how people whose parents are different races or ethnicities identify their own race.

The study, “The Role of Gender, Class, and Religion in Biracial Americans’ Racial Labeling Decisions,” appears in the February issue of American Sociological Review. Stanford University researchers drew on data from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program Freshman Survey, limiting the sample to 37,000 people with three specific types of heritage, per their biological parents: Black-White, Latino-White and Asian-White. Latino—widely classified as an ethnicity—was treated as a race for the purposes of this study.

When asked how they identify themselves, there were marked differences between the women and the men in the study. Among people with one Black parent and one White parent, 76 percent of the women identified as multiracial, while 64 percent of the men did. For the Latino-White group, 40 percent of the women called themselves multiracial, versus just 32 percent of the men. And for Asian-White biracial people, 56 percent of the women and 50 percent of the men self-identified as multiracial. 

Study author Lauren Davenport, an assistant professor of political science at Stanford, said in a press release that she thinks the distinction is directly related to how the world perceives men and women of mixed racial backgrounds.

It would seem that, for biracial women, looking racially ambiguous is tied to racial stereotypes surrounding femininity and beauty. So, biracial women are often seen as not fully white and not entirely minority, and they are cast as kind of a mysterious, intriguing “racial other.” As a consequence, it may be easier for women to reside in multiple racial groups simultaneously. However, biracial men may be more likely to be perceived as “people of color.” I argue that the different ways that biracial people are viewed by others influences how they see themselves.

The study also revealed that socioeconomic status and religion impacted how participants identified. People who were religious were more likely to choose a single racial category. And the more money a student’s family had, the more likely they were to identify as White or multiracial, rather than as a person of color. 

Overall, 71 percent of Black-White biracials, 37 percent of Latino-Whites and 54 percent of Asian-Whites self identified as multiracial. Just 5 percent of Black-Whites identified as White, versus 18 percent of Latino-Whites and 11 percent of Asian-Whites.

“For decades, hypodescent—commonly known as the ‘one-drop rule’—structured how individuals of part-Black backgrounds were legally and socially identified in the United States. As a result, I found it particularly interesting that the vast majority of young people of Black-White parentage in my study opted to self-identify with a multiracial label,” Davenport said. “For Black-White biracials, a multiracial identification is the new normal.” 

(H/t NPR)