California's Multiple Race Reporting
From AVSS: Preliminary Data


In 1999, the Office of the Director of California's Department of Health Services (DHS) reported that, beginning on January 1, 2000, it would revise the collection of race/ethnic data by incorporating changes contained in Directive 15 from the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In accordance with DHS policy, the Office of Vital Records (OVR) changed the Certificate of Live Birth to allow the selection of up to three multiple races for an individual. The Automated Vital Statistics System (AVSS), an electronic birth registration system, was therefore modified to allow the collection, storage, and reporting of multiple race data. Because AVSS is an online system with race textual strings automatically coded into numeric values, it is possible to produce tabulations with a minimal delay (within weeks of the birth). And since California was one of the few states to implement the new OMB directive in 2000, there is a keen interest in the preliminary results of broadened race reporting. Some preliminary AVSS results for multiple race reporting in 2000 are presented below.


Data Collection
In order to accommodate up to three race values on the California Certificate of Live Birth, the following steps were executed:

1. The length of Fields 18 and 21 (father's and mother's race) was increased by reducing the length of some of the other fields on the same lines of the paper birth certificate. For example, on the line of the birth certificate containing the mother's race, Fields 23A-C were reduced in length and Field 21 was increased correspondingly. The additional modifications to AVSS as described below, using mother's race as an example, were also applied to father's race (Field 18).

2. A new AVSS race prompt, 21A, was substituted for the original Field 21 race prompt, and an internal race code, I21A, was created to substitute for the original internal race code, I21. At the same time, the value for the original Field 21 was set equal to 21A, and I21 was set equal to I21A.

3. There was at least one additional race prompt, Field 21B, for the second maternal race. If there was a response to this second race prompt, then its appropriate coded value (I21B) was created, and there was then a third race prompt, 21C, with its corresponding code, I21C. Alternatively, if there was no response to the second prompt (21B), then there was no third prompt (21C).

4. Race values were limited to an extensive OVR list of 891 choices that was programmed into AVSS as a user-selectable list. No other race values were permitted by AVSS.

5. If more than one race was reported, the individual values were concatenated, separated by a "/" delimiter, and the resultant text string printed in Field 21. Since a maximum of 26 characters can be printed in Field 21, if three races were specified then the maximum length per race was limited to 8 characters (unless one of the individual races selected was less that 8 characters). If the total number of characters exceeded 26, AVSS electronically storeed the complete text for 21A, 21B, and 21C, but truncated the value to be printed in Field 21 sequentially by one character, beginning with the last race, then successively truncated the second race, then the first, then iterated to the last, until only 26 characters remained.

6. AVSS retained the pre-2000 race codes for the first race: Fields 21 and I21 remained as coded in previous years. This maintained consistency over time for many of existing AVSS reports.

7. The values of Unknown or Withheld could be specified only as the first race listed.

8. The revised AVSS programming was automatically invoked on January 1, 2000, and applied to all births that were entered into AVSS on or after that date, regardless of the infant's date of birth.

Automated Race Coding Procedures
California has published a manual that specifies the form and content of an electronic birth record for every field contained on the Certificate of Live Birth. For Fields 18 and 21 (Race of Father and Mother) the manual specifies the 24 two-digit race codes as shown in Table 1.

Table 1. California Race Codes

Code Race
30American Indian
59Pacific Islander

As described earlier, AVSS limits user choices for race to 891 textual values published by OVR. Attached to each value is a numeric race code. Certain values, such as Asian and Indian, require information from other fields on the birth certificate as well as special coding instructions. In summary, AVSS automatically creates race codes based on OVR coding standards. Historically, this coding was performed manually, involving considerable human effort. A number of evaluations of AVSS coding revealed it to be equal to or better than manual coding, and thus all race coding for California birth certificates is now performed automatically by AVSS.

Recommended OMB Race Reporting Categories
In March 2000 OMB published Bulletin No. 00-02, entitled, Guidance on Aggregation and Allocation of Data on Race for Use in Civil Rights Monitoring and Enforcement. Its purpose was to establish guidance for agencies that collect or use aggregate data on race. It recommended the multiple race reporting categories contained in Table 2.

Table 2. Recommended OMB Race Reporting Categories (OMB Bulletin NO. 00-02)

Code Abbreviation Race
1AIAN American Indian or Alaska Native
2Asian Asian
3Black Black or African American
4NHOPI Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
5White White
6AIAN/White American Indian or Alaska Native and White
7Asian/White Asian and White
8Black/White Black or African American and White
9AIAN/Black American Indian or Alaska Native and Black or African American
10- > 1 percent: Fill in if applicable______________________
11- > 1 percent: Fill in if applicable______________________
12Balance Balance of individuals reporting more than one race

The 24 California two-digit codes can be mapped into the five OMB single race categories as shown in Table 3.

Table 3. Mapping California Race Codes Into OMB Single Race Categories

OMB Single Race Category CA Code(s)
1. American Indian or Alaskan Native (AIAN) 30,57,58
2. Asian 40-49,52,53
3. Black or African American 20
4. Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (NHOPI) 54-56,59
5. White 10

The five OMB single race codes were used for multiple race reporting by applying the following rules:

  1. Since preliminary results indicate that a third race is rarely specified (0.5 percent), only the first two choices for mother's race (Fields 21A and 21B) were tabulated.
  2. If the OMB single race codes for Fields 21A and 21B were equal, then the two-race response was considered to be a single race. For example, both OMB codes are equal to 5 for Caucasian/German, and both equal 1 for Cherokee/Eskimo; in these examples, the equal numeric codes for the two race choices would subsume into one single-digit race code: 5 for the former (White) and 1 for the latter (AIAN).
  3. Order does not matter: White/Black (5,3) and Black/White (3,5) are equivalent.


Single Race For Mother
Mother's race, computed from the first race code listed (I21A) by means of the OMB single race codes listed in Table 3, is tabulated in Table 4 for the 71,877 California electronic birth records that were transmitted to OVR from January to March 2000.

Table 4. Mother's Single Race: California Births, January - March 2000

Mother's Race Births Percent
1. AIAN 4460.62
2. Asian 858511.94
3. Black 46656.49
4. NHOPI 4530.63
5. White 5668878.87
Other 6100.85
Withheld/Unknown 4300.60
TOTAL 71877100.00

Except for the fact that multiple races are now collected, this method of classification was identical to the race coding structure used in previous years. Mother's race using the single-digit codes for all 1999 births contained in the AVSS database as of March 2000 is reported in Table 4A.

Table 4A. Mother's Race: California Births, January - December 1999

Mother's Race Births Percent
1. AIAN 32220.62
2. Asian 5494610.60
3. Black 350916.77
4. NHOPI 30350.59
5. White 41653780.32
Other 30290.58
Withheld/Unknown 27360.53
TOTAL 518596100.00

Compared to 1999, the preliminary 2000 results show a decrease in the proportion of White, which was offset primarily by an increase in the proportion of Asian. There was also a small increase in Other, which is of concern since, with AVSS now restricting user choices to the OVR race list, there could be a decrease in the reporting of race specificity, with the choice of Other (California's code 51) used as an alternative.

Multiple Race For Mother
A total of 3,584, or 5.0 percent, of the first 71,877 California electronic birth records having 2000 birth dates and transmitted to OVR by mid-March 2000, reported at least two maternal races. Only 341, or 0.5 percent, reported three races. As discussed above, we considered the order of race reporting to be arbitrary and it was not taken into account when tabulating the results. For example, Asian/White and White/Asian as printed on the birth certificate, are both reported as Asian/White in Table 5.

Table 5. Mother's Multiple Races: California Births, January - March 2000

Mother's Race Births Percent
1. AIAN 3930.55
2. Asian 837211.65
3. Black 44126.14
4. NHOPI 3580.50
5. White 5604477.97
6. AIAN/White 2940.41
7. Asian/White 4140.58
8. Black/White 2560.36
9. AIAN/Black 400.06
AIAN/Asian 140.02
AIAN/Other 10.00
Asian/Black 480.07
Asian/Other 20.00
Asian/NHOPI 610.08
Black/Other 40.01
Black/NHOPI 80.01
Other SINGLE 5810.81
NHOPI/Other 10.00
White/Other 700.10
White/NHOPI 600.08
Withheld/Unknown 4430.62
TOTAL 71877100.00

The results in Table 5 reveal that only 1.8 percent of these mothers elected to report at least two distinct multiple races. The most frequent two-race combination was Asian/White (0.6 percent), followed by AIAN/White (0.4 percent) and Black/White, also with (0.4 percent). Of the nine race categories suggested by OMB, only AIAN/Black had a negligible number (0.06 percent), although the other three race mixtures had less than one percent. None of the race mixtures not specifically called for in the OMB recommendation had more than 0.1 percent. Thus, the recommended OMB categories, as shown in Table 5A, appear reasonable for California.

Table 5A. Mother's OMB Multiple Races: California Births, January - March 2000

Mother's Race Births Percent
1. AIAN 3930.55
2. Asian 837211.65
3. Black 44126.14
4. NHOPI 3580.50
5. White 5604477.97
6. AIAN/White 2940.41
7. Asian/White 4140.58
8. Black/White 2560.36
9. AIAN/Black 400.06
Balance of Multiple Races 2700.38
Other (Single Race) 5810.81
Withheld/Unknown 4430.62
TOTAL 71877100.00

Three Multiple Races Specified For Mother
The analysis above was limited to the reporting of up to two maternal races since only 341 (0.5 percent) of the 71,877 births reported three race choices for the mother. Only 64 of the 341, or 0.1 percent of the total births, were judged to be unique three-race combinations not contained in Table 5 for two multiple races. More than one-half of these combinations fell into the category AIAN/Black/White. With this possible exception, it therefore appears that analyzing only two race choices will unlikely overlook any important three-race combinations.


Although the results presented here are preliminary, some patterns in California's multiple race reporting are already evident and are likely to persist over time:

  1. Five percent of California mothers self-identified with multiple races, but less than two percent elected to report two or more distinct races as defined by the five OMB single race categories listed in Table 3. This could be a biased result, however, as more parents become aware of the possibility of reporting multiple races.
  2. The most frequent combination of two distinct races was Asian/White, followed by AIAN/White, and then by Black/White.
  3. The largest decrease in a single race category with the introduction of multiple race reporting was for the White, from 80.3 percent to 78.9 percent.
  4. The largest increase any single race category from 1999 to 2000 was for Asian, from 10.6 percent to 11.9 percent, however, this increase may be simply demographic and not associated with a change in race reporting. This could also be the case for the decrease in percentage of White.
  5. There is evidence that restricting race choices to the official state list containing nearly 900 values may have increased the reporting of Other somewhat (0.3 percent).
  6. Very few mothers elected to report three distinct races (about 0.1 percent), and about one-half of those reported the combination AIAN/Black/White.

By R. Williams with assistance from P. Chen and suggestions from A. Oppenheim, J. McKendry, G. Nakagawa, and M. Tashiro.

Supported in part by funds received from MCH Contract No. 99-85032 from the Department Of Health Services, Maternal And Child Health Branch.

Updated March 27, 2000 by RL Williams

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