Mixed Race in America: How the Social and Political Landscape of the U.S Shaped Race in the 20th Century


Mixed heritage people have often gone unrepresented in history. Though the reality is that most, if not all, people come from a background of mixed heritage, interracial marriages were not legalized across the whole United States until 1967 (Aldridge 1978, 356). I want to use U.S. Census Data to help me formulate a better understanding of what social and political changes in regard to race meant for the mixed race community. This is a hard task to accomplish because the census did not allow for people to mark themselves with more than one race until the 2000 census. Since the change, the census has grown to accommodate 63 race categories, and 57 of those are composed of mixed-race combinations (Allen and Turner  2001, 513). This change shows how difficult it is to categorize humans through race as there are inevitably infinite possibilities in the racial composition of individuals.

However, to understand the history of mixed race people and the relationships between different races, through the analyzation of mixed peoples, it is necessary to use the census data from before the 2000 census, which for many reasons proves to be a difficult task. Before the 2000 census allowed for the selection of multiple races, people were guided to choose one of several discrete races with which they identified to the most. For this reason I want to use data on the children of interracial marriages to approximate the presence of mixed race persons in the US. The research previously conducted on the matter is incomplete, and furthermore, it focuses primarily on specific race mixtures – most often that of white and black couples.

Despite my ability to draw on IPUMS data to create data visualizations for the mixed race population in America, the data is probably lacking in accuracy. There are a lot of constraints on my research that make it hard to gather accurate data. One flaw in my method is that it is likely that a large population of interracial couples did not legally get married, so they may have been less likely to have lived together, or to respond that they did (Monahan 1977,66). Additionally, attempts have been made in the past to destroy racial categorization – leaving the data available to me possibly incomplete. Thomas Monahan claims that activists in the Civil Rights era aimed to erase racial identification from public records in attempts to reduce the societal discrimination based on color or race. This is particularly damaging as it led to the erasure of racial data in certain large states. Despite the efforts of some individuals, the Census Bureau itself is also responsible for both reflecting and participating in the social construction of race, which influences what we  consider mixed-race to mean. Their role in creating racial categories can be seen as beneficial in many ways, but it is also important to understand that by creating such categories they have influences the perception of certain individuals in this country. So, the changing attitudes and opinions regarding race have had direct impacts on the data collected on the topic.

Additionally, not all those who were enumerated by the census were enumerated correctly. 20th Century America had ever-changing definitions and standards regarding the categorization of race. Factors such as “skin color, the primary objectivation of racial group membership, play[ed] an important role in determining the degree of assimilation” of colored people in America (Lewis and Ford-Robertson 2010, 409). To this extent, individuals with lighter skin tones, who may not have been white, could have been categorized, by their own volition or against it, as white. This is especially true for Hispanic Americans, who were not identified as their own ethnic/racial category until 1980 (Lewis and Ford-Robertson 2010, 411). When the US Census Bureau began sending enumerators door-to-door to enumerate those who did not mail-in the census, more accurate accounts of the population were likely taken by the Bureau. Mail-in censuses disproportionately undercounted the more socio-economically troubled segment of the population. Nonetheless, the many problems with categorizing race, a social construct, are apparent in any data analysis conducted using census data. For this reason the 2000 Census, the only set of data that allows for a somewhat accurate count of the mixed race population in America, has to be included in studies of mixed race people prior to the turn of the 20th century.


Figures 1 and 2 show the percentage of children (people under the age of 18) with parents of different races in America. Figure 3 shows the population of people who responded to the 2000 census as appertaining to two or more races.  Raw data is gathered from IPUMS 1% samples, asides from 1970 where 1% state form is used and 1% metro in 1980. Data is not available for Hawaii and Alaska in 1940 and1950. Data was weighted by PERWT in all years. A method to define parents of different races needed to be created to generate the code that counts for children with different race parents. IPUMS classifies census race categories into values of RACE, which is what I used to define parents of different races. Using the values of RACE is instrumental because it easily allows for one to pull race data from the census, but, unfortunately, the values of RACE are not consistent.

The type/identity of people that were categorized into different RACE values changed with the changing social constructions of race. Certain races are only available in the RACE variable for certain years. Additionally, asian nationalities, such as Chinese, Japanese, and ‘Other Asian’, are marked as different races on the census. This necessitates a methodology for understanding race within this research. I have chosen to leave the asian nationalities as different races to reflect the viewpoints of the census, and in this vain, the viewpoints of society of the time.

Children are defined as people under the age of 18, and since their race is not being analyzed directly, the results rely on the race(s) of their parents. This is problematic because the analyzation will not account for children with different race parents unless the parents both live with the child. Furthermore, mixed parents are not accounted for because they were forced to choose one race to represent them in the census up until 2000, so some mixed race children will not be accounted for this reason.

Figure 1 is a map; it shows the percent of children in each American state who have parents of different races from 1900 to 1990. Figure 2 is a line graph that shows the percent of children with parents of different races in the US as a whole in those same years. Figure 3 is a population pyramid which shows the distribution of sex and age in people who marked themselves as appertaining to two or more races in the year 2000.

Below I have linked my code for each figure which I have uploaded to GitHub:

Figure 1 (animated map) code can be found here

Figure 2 (line graph) code can be found here

Figure 3 (population pyramid) code can be found here

Results and Interpretation



Figure 1 – Animated map of children with parents of different races by state, 1900-1990.

Figure 1 demonstrates percentages of children (those under 18) with parents of two different races in each state of the U.S between 1900 and 1990. This map shows the changes in the population of mixed race children, and where they occurred, over the majority of the 20th century. The changes are small, but they reflect the increasing acceptance of racial mixing throughout the nation. In 1940 and 1950 it will appear as if Hawaii, where the greatest percentage of people of mixed race reside, lost all their mixed race children. However, this is only a reflection of the fact that U.S. census data is not available for Hawaii and Alaska in the 1940 and 1950 censuses.

The maps show a small, but steady, general increase in the presence of children with mixed race parents. This increase goes hand in hand with what one would expect studying American history. As the US became more populated, and more immigrants entered (Hochschild and Powell 2008, 63), new racial categorizations had to be created. The increased immigration subsequently resulted in the higher presence of mixed race children over the years. However, the low figures for children of interracial relationships goes to show how it was nonetheless difficult for racial integration to occur in America. Because the results are very low, they may be more useful in showing the lack of representation/presence of mixed race children as a result of race tensions in America.

In fact, the data categorizes Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans as different races, which may promote a slightly larger percentage of mixed race children than if those nationalities were considered as one Asian race. This reflects the fact that race is a racial construct that is highly dependent on historical context. Using a map gives the reader an easily interpretable geographic understanding of the presence of mixed race children in America. Seeing the changes in population of each state over 90 years is enough of a time frame to give one a sense of the how the changes happening were affecting the nation as a whole. The maps do not suggest a very specific trend in the location of mixed race people, though certain states on the West Coast, as well as the non-continental state Hawaii, can be seen as places where mixed people, and therefore interracial relationships, are more frequently found. Looking at the map of 1990 one can see that the whole West Coast is composed of 3% or more mixed race children, which is more than the East Coast. This is perhaps a result of the large Asian immigration to the West as the West is geographically closer to Asia. Nonetheless, it can be inferred that inter-racial relationships were more frequent in areas in with greater immigration.    

One area in which my research led me to a different conclusion from my research was in the percentage of mixed race people in the South compared to the North (Lewis and Ford-Robertson 2010). My data analysis, which is visually represented by the maps, did not firmly conclude that the South had significantly lower rates of mixed children than the rest of the nation, especially compared to the North.  Perhaps, the inference was made that states and regions frequently considered more racist would be less conducive to interracial relationships. Because I did not find this to be the case, the reality might be that, despite lower levels of overt racism in the North, race was still a difficult social boundary to break.



Figure 2 – Line graph depicting children with parents of different races 1900-1990.

     Figure 2 utilizes a line graph to demonstrate the overall trend of the population of children with parents of different races in the U.S over most of the 20th century (1900-1990). The line graph promotes the notion that children with mixed race parents were not a common occurrence, but that their population saw a statistically significant increase in the years following the Civil Rights movement and Court rulings such as Loving vs. Virginia which allowed for interracial marriages across the 50 states (Aldridge 1978). Aldridge, in his article “Interracial Marriages: Empirical and Theoretical Considerations”, also highlights the reality that interracial relationships remained a tiny fraction of relationships in America, but that they did see an increase over the years as race relations changed. In 1970, a study by David Heer using Census Bureau data showed a 26% increase in Black/White marriages between 1960 and 1970 compared to same-race marriages for the two races (Lewis and Ford-Robertson 2010, 410). However, since race in the 20th century was often dichotomized between white and non-white, results may be unreflective of the true presence of mixed race relations.

Seeing how the percentage of children with parents of different races reacted to the social movements of the 60s promotes the notion that shifting political and social views in regards to race have had a measurable effect on the population of mixed race children. The line of the graph is useful in visually interpreting the surge that occurred after the Civil Rights era. With this surge in mind, the inclusion of visible percentages to the data points on the graph keeps the visualization in relation to the overall population. The data point percentages show that despite what could be interpreted as a significant change in the population after the civil rights movement, the de facto percentage of mixed race children in relation to the nationwide population remained very low, peaking at 2.65 percent in 1990 – helping prove Aldridge’s findings. This leads to my next point, which aims to understand the difference between perception and reality.

One major theme that I came across in my research was that there are racial boundaries that have made mixed relationships less prevalent than the media would suggest. As racial boundaries become less and less rigid, popular culture reflects this reality through increased inclusion of minorities in media. Today, this can be seen in our television programs, tabloid magazines, and a variety of other media outlets. However, despite the progressive movement of the Civil Rights era, which from the line graph can be seen as having had a measurable affect on the mixed race population, and the increased inclusion of minority races in popular culture, research suggests that the union between differing cultures is still rather rare. Lewis and Ford-Robertson’s research promotes the idea that interracial relationships are prominently between people of similar backgrounds. So, perhaps, as racial boundaries differentiate people less and less it is likely that the mixed race population will continue to grow. Ultimately, the line graph helps us understand that social movements do in fact have resonance in population demographics, but also, that these reactions have to be interpreted on a larger scale to reveal their true impact, or lack thereof, on our population as a whole.


Population Pyramid

Figure 3 – Population pyramid depicting distribution by age and sex of U.S. population that identified as having two or more races in the 2000 census.

Figure 3, the population pyramid, demonstrates the age and sex demographics of people who marked themselves as appertaining to two or more races on the 2000 census data. Allen and Turner acknowledge that the 2000 census is the first census which can provide somewhat accurate counts of the mixed race population, and for this reason I have decided to include it in my project. This graph can help provide more accurate numbers in regard to the mixed race population, and it can also be useful by helping visualize the demographic patterns of the preceding decades.

This population pyramid works to show that the youth, people of ages 0 to 9, are by far the largest group of people with mixed race parents. My research supported this finding, and the data helps demonstrate how the improved race relations of the late 20th century led to increased interracial relationships and mixed race children. This was discussed to some depth by Lewis and Ford-Robertson in their article “Understanding the Occurrence of Interracial Marriage in the United States Through Differential Assimilation”. In the article they take interest in how the Civil Rights movement of the 60s led to a cultural movement intent on giving minorities equal rights. It can be deducted that the social and political action of 60s, and beyond, led to some degree of destigmatization towards interracial mingling. Naturally, with better race relations, the taboo of interracial relationships was pushed back upon, slightly, but still significantly enough to be traceable in the population pyramid. This push towards the acceptance of interracial relationships is made evident through the proportionally large number of mixed race youth in the year 2000.

The use of a visualization for the year 2000’s census is important in determining whether the research done on the trends and patterns of the preceding decades was somewhat correct and relevant. James Allen and Eugene Tuner’s 2010 article “Bridging 1990 and 2000 Census Race Data: Fractional Assignment of Multiracial Populations” was in part responsible for giving me an idea of why it might be important to include data from when the census accommodated for mixed race people. The article highlights how between 1990 and 1998 there was a 41% increase in the birth of mixed children. Since my other data visualizations stopped in 1990 I thought it would be important to include at least one visualization that included 2000. Furthermore, by using a population pyramid, I can look at more than just the year 2000 since the pyramid shows people across all ages.

Further Analysis

Government laws, just like the Census Bureau’s racial categorizations, had an instrumental role in promoting racial boundaries within society. It is more likely than not that laws before the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Ed, that made segregating school unconstitutional, and the 1967 ruling Loving v. Virginia created impediments to racial mingling. This had the effect of making inter-racial relationships rare (Aldridge 1978). The Supreme Court decision to erase segregation in schools most likely lead to greater mingling between students of different races in high school and in college. In the 1970s, people were entering relationships at earlier ages, and colleges provided a safe space away from parents for young adults to interact. This, in addition to young peoples’ revolts on “traditional institutions and values” that led them to “reject the taboos on dating across racial lines” created an atmosphere that was more accepting of mixed race partnerships(Aldridge 1978, 357). So, in the post Civil Rights era years, there was a surge in interracial relationships that is shown in my data visualizations. Of course, this was only possible in areas in which racial segregation was low. Regardless, inter-racial relationships remained very low, and became even less frequent in the South after Brown v. Board of Ed according to Aldridge. Possibly as a result of white backlash to the government’s measures to reduce discrimination.


       Mixed race people have been a small demographic of the United States of America, however, this is a rapidly growing demographic. This growth is indicative of a changing nation and of a changing world. Globalization, immigration, and technology have all led to greater interactions between people of different cultures. Because of this change, I believe it is important to add the experience of mixed race peoples to the general conversation about racial and cultural identity. Unfortunately, an overarching theme presented in the sources I collected is that more research on the topic of mixed heritage persons needs to be conducted, but that the limitations on collecting this data have presented a very difficult challenge for past researchers. This lack of relevant data in past years shows that it is important that the census keeps adapting and evolving over the years. As America shifts towards being a more racially heterogeneous country, going forwards it will be important that mixed race people are included in the decisions and conversations that have traditionally excluded and/or ignored mixed race peoples. Even though the data I have compiled suggests that mixed race people have been much less prevalent in our society than one might perceive, this is a reality that is rapidly changing. Perhaps, this change may even lead to a renewed perception of race and racial boundaries. This research hopes to communicate that measuring something as fluid, and socially constructed, as race is important, but that it is important to look at the bigger picture as well. The very definition of mixed race is complicated for this reason. Regardless, if this information can be used to better understand the state of our nation, and of the world, and if it can be used for good, then it is important we continue to conduct this sort of research.


Works Cited

1. Lewis, Richard, and Ford-Robertson Joanne. “Understanding the Occurrence of Interracial Marriage in the   United States Through Differential Assimilation.” Journal of Black Studies 41.2 (2010): 405-20. Web.

2. Aldridge, Delores P. “Interracial Marriages: Empirical and Theoretical Considerations.” Journal of   Black Studies 8.3 (1978): 355-68. Web.

3. Monahan, Thomas P. “Interracial Parentage as Revealed by Birth Records in the United States, 1970.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 8, no. 1 (1977): 65-77. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41600991.

4. Jennifer L. Hochschild and Brenna Marea Powell, “Racial Reorganization and the United States Census 1850-1930: Mulattoes, Half-Breeds, Mixed Parentage, Hindoos, and the Mexican Race,” Studies in American Political Development 22(2008): 59-96.

5. Allen, James P., and Turner Eugene. “Bridging 1990 and 2000 Census Race Data: Fractional Assignment of Multiracial Populations.” Population Research and Policy Review 20.6 (2001): 513-33. Web.

6. Monahan, Thomas P. “An Overview of Statistics on Interracial Marriage in the United States, with Data on Its Extent from 1963-1970.” Journal of Marriage and Family 38.2 (1976): 223-31. Web.