, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 141–172 | Cite as

Genetic Bio-Ancestry and Social Construction of Racial Classification in Social Surveys in the Contemporary United States

  • Guang GuoEmail author
  • Yilan Fu
  • Hedwig Lee
  • Tianji Cai
  • Kathleen Mullan Harris
  • Yi Li


Self-reported race is generally considered the basis for racial classification in social surveys, including the U.S. census. Drawing on recent advances in human molecular genetics and social science perspectives of socially constructed race, our study takes into account both genetic bio-ancestry and social context in understanding racial classification. This article accomplishes two objectives. First, our research establishes geographic genetic bio-ancestry as a component of racial classification. Second, it shows how social forces trump biology in racial classification and/or how social context interacts with bio-ancestry in shaping racial classification. The findings were replicated in two racially and ethnically diverse data sets: the College Roommate Study (N = 2,065) and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (N = 2,281).


Race Racial classification Genetics Bio-ancestry 



Two grants to Guang Guo supported the College Roommate Study (the William T. Grant Foundation) and the Illumina 1536 genotyping in Add Health (NSF’s Human and Social Dynamics program BCS-0826913). Data from Add Health were funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 17 other agencies ( to Kathleen Mullan Harris (P01-HD31921). Special acknowledgment is due Rick Bradley of the Housing Department, Kirk Wilhelmsen of the Genetics Department, Patricia Basta of the Bio-Specimen Process Center, Jason Luo of the Mammalian Genotyping Center, and the Odum Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. We received important assistance in SNP selection and the analysis of HGDP data from David Goldman and his Neurogenetics lab at NIAAA. Many hearty thanks go to Greg Duncan for his important role in the project and his helpful comments on the manuscript. We are grateful to the Carolina Population Center (R24 HD050924) for general support.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Guang Guo
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Yilan Fu
    • 1
  • Hedwig Lee
    • 3
  • Tianji Cai
    • 4
  • Kathleen Mullan Harris
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yi Li
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Sociology and Carolina Population CenterUniversity of North CarolinaChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.Carolina Center for Genome SciencesUniversity of North CarolinaChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Department of SociologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  4. 4.Department of SociologyUniversity of MacauTaipaMacau

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