Ancestry versus Ethnicity: The Complexity and Selectivity of Mexican Identification in the United States

Stephen Trejo, University of Texas at Austin
Brian Duncan, University of Colorado at Denver

Using 2000 Census data, we analyze the responses of Mexican Americans to questions eliciting their "ethnicity" (or Hispanic origin) and their "ancestry." We investigate whether different patterns of responses to these questions reflect varying degrees of ethnic attachment. For example, those identified as "Mexican" in both the Hispanic origin and the ancestry questions might have stronger levels of ethnic attachment than those identified as Mexican only in the ancestry question. How U.S.-born Mexicans report their ethnicity/ancestry is strongly associated with indicators of socioeconomic status. In particular, educational attainment, English proficiency, and earnings are especially high for men and women who claim a Mexican ancestry but report their ethnicity as "not Hispanic." Further, intermarriage and the Mexican identification of children are also strongly related to how U.S.-born Mexican adults report their ethnicity/ancestry, revealing a possible link between the intergenerational transmission of Mexican identification and economic status.

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Presented in Session 99: Race, Ethnicity, Ancestry, and Caste in Demographic Measurement