The limits of ancestry DNA tests, explained

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Videos on 2021-11-08 21:04Z by Steven

The limits of ancestry DNA tests, explained


Brian Resnick, Science Reporter

Danush Parvaneh/Vox

23andMe wants to sell you vacations based on your DNA. But what are they really basing that on?

Identical twins have virtually identical DNA. So you’d think if a set of twins both sent in a DNA sample for genetic ancestry testing, they’d get the exact same results, right?

Not necessarily, according to a recent investigation by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In fact, the journalists demonstrated that twins don’t often get the same results from a single company. And across the industry, estimates of where an individual’s ancestors lived can differ significantly from company to company.

In one instance, the consumer genetics company 23andMe told one twin she was 13 percent “Broadly European.” The other twin’s test, meanwhile, showed she had just 3 percent “Broadly European” ancestry, and had more DNA matched to other, more specific regions in Europe. What’s more, when the twins had their DNA tested by five companies, each one gave them different results.

One computational biologist told the CBC that the differences in the results were “mystifying.”

So what accounts for these differences? Overall, discrepancies in ancestry testing don’t mean that genetic science is a fraud, and that the companies are just making up these numbers. They have more to do with the limitations of the science and some key assumptions companies make when analyzing DNA for ancestry…

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Do genetic ancestry tests increase racial essentialism? Findings from a randomized controlled trial

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2021-11-08 19:31Z by Steven

Do genetic ancestry tests increase racial essentialism? Findings from a randomized controlled trial

Published 2020-01-29
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0227399

Wendy D. Roth, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Şule Yaylacı, Banting Postdoctoral Fellow
Identity and Conflict Lab
University of Pennsylvania

Kaitlyn Jaffe, Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Sociology
University of British Columbia, Vancouver

Lindsey Richardson, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of British Columbia, Vancouver

Genetic ancestry testing is a billion-dollar industry, with more than 26 million tests sold by 2018, which raises concerns over how it might influence test-takers’ understandings of race. While social scientists argue that genetic ancestry tests may promote an essentialist view of race as fixed and determining innate abilities, others suggest it could reduce essentialist views by reinforcing a view of race as socially constructed. Essentialist views are a concern because of their association with racism, particularly in its most extreme forms. Here we report the first randomized controlled trial of genetic ancestry testing conducted to examine potential causal relationships between taking the tests and essentialist views of race. Native-born White Americans were randomly assigned to receive Admixture and mtDNA tests or no tests. While we find no significant average effect of genetic ancestry testing on essentialism, secondary analyses reveal that the impact of these tests on racial essentialism varies by type of genetic knowledge. Within the treatment arm, essentialist beliefs significantly declined after testing among individuals with high genetic knowledge, but increased among those with the least genetic knowledge. Additional secondary analysis show that essentialist beliefs do not change based on the specific ancestries reported in test-takers’ results. These results indicate that individuals’ interpretations of genetic ancestry testing results, and the links between genes and race, may depend on their understanding of genetics.

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“Discrimination is more about how you’re seen by others than how you see yourself.”

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2020-03-10 18:26Z by Steven

The census, though, operates under the premise that people will identify themselves in the same way as those in their society see them. For instance, a person like Salvador will check “black.” When a person’s view of their own race aligns with that of the broader society, the race data can point to areas of inequality and potential discrimination.

But people who don’t identify with the census race boxes may check a box that doesn’t reflect how society sees them. Or they may skip the question or fail to return the form, resulting in undercounts, and the race data stop working as intended.

“Discrimination is more about how you’re seen by others than how you see yourself,” [Wendy] Roth says.

Sujata Gupta, “To fight discrimination, the U.S. census needs a different race question,” Science News: Independent Journalism Since 1921, March 8, 2020.

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To fight discrimination, the U.S. census needs a different race question

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Latino Studies, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2020-03-10 14:48Z by Steven

To fight discrimination, the U.S. census needs a different race question

Science News: Independent Journalism Since 1921

Sujata Gupta, Social Sciences Writer

An accurate sense of racial diversity is hard to achieve with current U.S. census questions.
Delphine Lee

The government has asked people their race since 1790

Wendy Roth has been arguing for years that the U.S. Census Bureau should ask about race in a different way. The race box that people check for themselves on the census doesn’t always match the box someone else might have checked for them. And that, Roth says, is a problem.

Roth, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, began researching that mismatch in racial identification in the early 2000s. She recruited 60 New Yorkers who had been born in Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, showed them the census race question and asked them how they would answer. The responses surprised her.

Consider the case of Salvador, a kitchen worker in the Bronx. “Many Americans observing him would consider him to be black,” Roth wrote in December 2010 in Social Science Quarterly. But Salvador told Roth that he checks “white.”

While attitudes in the mainland United States have been shaped by the long legacy of the “one-drop rule,” in which a single drop of “black blood” conferred “blackness,” Puerto Ricans believe the opposite — that even dark-skinned people can’t be black if they have “white blood.” Puerto Ricans use terms like mulatto or trigueño to describe those falling somewhere between white and black. But when presented with race checkboxes that offer no intermediate options, Salvador simply goes by what he knows…

A slippery sense of self

As minority groups fight for greater visibility, and the race question gets wound up in ideas about self-affirmation and group empowerment, the census data have been getting more difficult to decipher since the 1960 shift to self-identification.

With the power to check their own race box, many people previously identified as white have embraced a nonwhite or mixed-race identity. That’s evident in the American Indian numbers. From 1890 to 1960, the American Indian population grew from 248,000 to 524,000, with an average annual growth rate of just 1.1 percent. But over the next several decades, and coinciding with the shift to self-identification, that population grew to almost 2 million by 1990 — with an average annual growth rate of 4.3 percent. That meteoric growth extends well beyond what is possible through births alone, [Carolyn] Liebler says…

Read the entire article here.

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Genetic Options: The Impact of Genetic Ancestry Testing on Consumers’ Racial and Ethnic Identities

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2019-12-01 00:52Z by Steven

Genetic Options: The Impact of Genetic Ancestry Testing on Consumers’ Racial and Ethnic Identities

American Journal of Sociology
Volume 124, Number 1 (July 2018)
pages 150-184
DOI: 10.1086/697487

Wendy D. Roth, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of Pennsylvania

Biorn Ivemark, Postdoctoral Researcher
School of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences
Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden

Publication Cover

The rapid growth of genetic ancestry testing has brought concerns that these tests will transform consumers’ racial and ethnic identities, producing “geneticized” identities determined by genetic knowledge. Drawing on 100 qualitative interviews with white, black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, and Native Americans, the authors develop the genetic options theory to account for how genetic ancestry tests influence consumers’ ethnic and racial identities. The theory maintains that consumers do not accept the tests’ results as given but choose selectively from the estimates according to two mechanisms: their identity aspirations and social appraisals. Yet consumers’ prior racialization also influences their identity aspirations; white respondents aspired to new identities more readily and in substantively different ways. The authors’ findings suggest that genetic ancestry testing can reinforce race privilege among those who already experience it.

Read or purchase the article here.

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Establishing the Denominator: The Challenges of Measuring Multiracial, Hispanic, and Native American Populations

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Latino Studies, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Social Science, United States on 2019-12-01 00:22Z by Steven

Establishing the Denominator: The Challenges of Measuring Multiracial, Hispanic, and Native American Populations

The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Volume: 677, Issue: 1, What Census Data Miss about American Diversity, (May 2018)
Pages 48-56
DOI: 10.1177/0002716218756818

Wendy D. Roth, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of Pennsylvania


For multiracial, Hispanic, and Native Americans, norms for racial and ethnic self-identification are less well established than they are for other population groups. There is considerable variation and fluidity in how multiracial, Hispanic, and Native Americans self-identify, as well as how they are classified by others. This presents challenges to researchers and analysts in terms of consistently and accurately estimating the size and population dynamics of these groups. I argue that for analytic purposes, racial/ethnic self-identification should continue to be treated as a statistical numerator, but that the challenge is for researchers to establish the correct denominator—the population that could identify as members of the group based on their ancestry. Examining how many people who could identify with these groups choose to do so sheds light on assimilation and emerging racial classification processes. Analyses of the larger potential populations further avoid bias stemming from nonrandom patterns of self-identification with the groups.

Read or purchase the article here.

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The multiple dimensions of race

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Social Science on 2016-04-04 01:07Z by Steven

The multiple dimensions of race

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Published online 2016-03-21
DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2016.1140793

Wendy D. Roth, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of British Columbia, Vancouver

Increasing numbers of people in the United States and beyond experience ‘race’ not as a single, consistent identity but as a number of conflicting dimensions. This article distinguishes the multiple dimensions of the concept of race, including racial identity, self-classification, observed race, reflected race, phenotype, and racial ancestry. With the word ‘race’ used as a proxy for each of these dimensions, much of our scholarship and public discourse is actually comparing across several distinct, albeit correlated, variables. Yet which dimension of race is used can significantly influence findings of racial inequality. I synthesize scholarship on the multiple dimensions of race, and situate in this framework distinctive literatures on colourism and genetic ancestry inference. I also map the relationship between the multidimensionality of race and processes of racial fluidity and racial boundary change.

Read the entire article here.

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Creating a “Latino” Race

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Latino Studies, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2013-03-20 04:17Z by Steven

Creating a “Latino” Race

The Society Pages: Social Science That Matters

Wendy D. Roth, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of British Columbia
(Author of Race Migrations: Latinos and the Cultural Transformation of Race)

Editors’ Note: The author prefers to capitalize Black and White along with other socially constructed racial categories.

For much of American history, race has been a dichotomous, Black-White affair where the “one-drop rule” dictated that people with any amount of racial mixture were defined legally and socially as Black. In recent generations, however, with the rise of intermarriage and the entrance of new immigrants from all over the world, American racial categories and conceptions have become much more complicated and contested. Latinos provide a particularly revealing case of the new complexities of race in America.

Persons of Hispanic ancestry have long had mixed racial identities and classifications. The history of Latin America is characterized by the mixing of European colonizers, native Indigenous groups, and Africans brought over as slaves. As a result, the diverse Latino group includes people who look White, Black, and many mixtures in between. In the mid-20th century, it was assumed that as they Americanized, Latinos who looked European would join the White race, while those with visible African ancestry would join the Black race, and others might be seen as Native American. For fifty years, the Census has supported this vision by informing us that Latinos could be classified as White, Black, or “other,” but not as a race themselves. “Hispanic” remained an ethnic, not a racial, category.

To answer this question, I studied Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, two groups whose members span the traditional Black/White color line. I interviewed sixty Dominican and Puerto Rican migrants in New York City, and another sixty Dominicans and Puerto Ricans who have never migrated out of their countries of origin. We spoke about how they understand and classify their own and other people’s races, their perception of races in the mainland United States and their home country, what race means to them, and the migrants’ integration experiences. Their interviews revealed that most identify with a new, unified racial category that challenges not only the traditional Black-White dichotomy but also the relationship between race and ethnicity in American society. In other words, the experiences of these groups help us to better understand how immigrants’ views of collective identity and the relationship between color and culture are reshaping contemporary American racial classifications…

Read the entire article here.

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How the United States Racializes Latinos: White Hegemony and Its Consequences

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Latino Studies, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2012-12-05 23:07Z by Steven

How the United States Racializes Latinos: White Hegemony and Its Consequences

Paradigm Publishers
May 2009
264 pages
6″ x 9″
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-59451-598-9
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-59451-599-6

Edited by

José A. Cobas, Emeritus Professor of Sociology
Arizona State University

Jorge Duany, Professor of Anthropology
University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras

Joe R. Feagin, Ella C. McFadden Professor of Sociology
Texas A&M University

Mexican and Central American undocumented immigrants, as well as U.S. citizens such as Puerto Ricans and Mexican Americans, have become a significant portion of the U.S. population. Yet the U.S. government, mainstream society, and radical activists characterize this rich diversity of peoples and cultures as one group alternatively called “Hispanics,” “Latinos,” or even the pejorative “illegals.” How has this racializing of populations engendered governmental policies, police profiling, economic exploitation, and even violence that afflict these groups?

From a variety of settings—New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Central America, Cuba—this book explores this question in considering both the national and international implications of U.S. policy. Its coverage ranges from legal definitions and practices to popular stereotyping by the public and the media, covering such diverse topics as racial profiling, workplace discrimination, mob violence, treatment at border crossings, barriers to success in schools, and many more. It shows how government and social processes of racializing are too seldom understood by mainstream society, and the implication of attendant policies are sorely neglected.


  • List of Figures and Tables
  • Introduction: Racializing Latinos: Historical Background and Current Forms / José A. Cobas, Jorge Duany, and Joe R. Feagin
  • Chapter 1: Pigments of Our Imagination: On the Racialization and Racial Identities of “Hispanics” and “Latinos” / Rubén G. Rumbaut
  • Chapter 2: Counting Latinos in the U.S. Census / Clara E. Rodríguez
  • Chapter 3: Becoming Dark: The Chilean Experience in California, 1848–1870 / Fernando Purcell
  • Chapter 4: Repression and Resistance: The Lynching of Persons of Mexican Origin in the United States, 1848–1928 / William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb
  • Chapter 5: Opposite One-Drop Rules: Mexican Americans, African Americans, and the Need to Reconceive Turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century Race Relations / Laura E. Gómez
  • Chapter 6: Racializing the Language Practices of U.S. Latinos: Impact on Their Education / Ofelia García
  • Chapter 7: English-Language Spanish in the United States as a Site of Symbolic Violence / Jane H. Hill
  • Chapter 8: Racialization among Cubans and Cuban Americans / Lisandro Pérez
  • Chapter 9 Racializing Miami: Immigrant Latinos and Colorblind Racism in the Global City / Elizabeth Aranda, Rosa E. Chang, and Elena Sabogal
  • Chapter 10: Blacks, Latinos, and the Immigration Debate: Conflict and Cooperation in Two Global Cities / Xóchitl Bada and Gilberto Cárdenas
  • Chapter 11: Central American Immigrants and Racialization in a Post-Civil Rights Era / Nestor P. Rodriguez and Cecilia Menjívar
  • Chapter 12: Agency and Structure in Panethnic Identity Formation: The Case of Latino/a Entrepreneurs /Zulema Valdez
  • Chapter 13: Racializing Ethnicity in the Spanish-Speaking Caribbean: A Comparison of Haitians in the Dominican Republic and Dominicans in Puerto Rico / Jorge Duany
  • Chapter 14: Transnational Racializations: The Extension of Racial Boundaries from Receiving to Sending Societies / Wendy D. Roth
  • Contributors
  • Index
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Race Migrations: Latinos and the Cultural Transformation of Race

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Science, United States on 2012-06-07 20:49Z by Steven

Race Migrations: Latinos and the Cultural Transformation of Race

Stanford University Press
April 2012
268 pages
6 tables, 1 figure, 20 photographs
Cloth ISBN: 9780804777957
Paper ISBN: 9780804777964
E-book ISBN: 9780804782531

Wendy D. Roth, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of British Columbia, Canada

In this groundbreaking study of Puerto Rican and Dominican migration to the United States, Wendy D. Roth explores the influence of migration on changing cultural conceptions of race—for the newcomers, for their host society, and for those who remain in the countries left behind. Just as migrants can gain new language proficiencies, they can pick up new understandings of race. But adopting an American idea about race does not mean abandoning earlier ideas. New racial schemas transfer across borders and cultures spread between sending and host countries.

Behind many current debates on immigration is the question of how Latinos will integrate and where they fit into the U.S. racial structure. Race Migrations shows that these migrants increasingly see themselves as a Latino racial group. Although U.S. race relations are becoming more “Latin Americanized” by the presence of Latinos and their views about race, race in the home countries is also becoming more “Americanized” through the cultural influence of those who go abroad. Ultimately, Roth shows that several systems of racial classification and stratification co-exist in each place, in the minds of individuals and in their shared cultural understandings of “how race works.”


  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. How Immigration Changes Concepts of Race [Read an excerpt here.]
  • 2. Beyond the Continuum: Race in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico
  • 3. Migrant Schemas: Race in the United States
  • 4. Transnational Diffusion
  • 5. Multiple Forms of Racial Stratification
  • 6. Performing Race Strategically
  • 7. Is Latino Becoming a Race?
  • Cultural Change and Classifications
  • Appendix: Notes on Methodology
  • Notes
  • Index
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