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Cause of Death Affects Racial Classification on Death Certificates

  • Author(s): Noymer, Andrew
  • Penner, Andrew M.
  • Saperstein, Aliya
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License
Abstract

Recent research suggests racial classification is responsive to social stereotypes, but how this affects racial classification in national vital statistics is unknown. This study examines whether cause of death influences racial classification on death certificates. We analyze the racial classifications from a nationally representative sample of death certificates and subsequent interviews with the decedents' next of kin and find notable discrepancies between the two racial classifications by cause of death. Cirrhosis decedents are more likely to be recorded as American Indian on their death certificates, and homicide victims are more likely to be recorded as Black; these results remain net of controls for followback survey racial classification, indicating that the relationship we reveal is not simply a restatement of the fact that these causes of death are more prevalent among certain groups. Our findings suggest that seemingly non-racial characteristics, such as cause of death, affect how people are racially perceived by others and thus shape U.S. official statistics.

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