How Is Race Determined on Birth Certificates?

Last updated May 27th, 2021

Although the question of how race is defined on vital records such as birth certificates and death certificates in the US is pretty straightforward, its answer is quite complex.

In order to properly explain the way race is determined on a US birth certificate, we must first go over a few details:

A citizen’s birth details are recorded on their Certificate of Live Birth when their birth is registered by the hospital. The questionnaire is filled, in part, by the new parents, who state the mother’s race and the father’s race, based upon self-identification.

The medical information required in the form is filled out by hospital personnel that attended the child’s birth and then submitted to legally register the baby’s birth. A US birth certificate is then issued by the vital records office.

Does a Birth Certificate Contain Racial Information?

Birth certificates contain information about the citizen, their parents, place, and date of birth, and more, depending on the type of birth certificate copy issued**.

The Standard Certificate of Live Birth contains racial information of the baby’s parents, as stated by each of them. This racial data is used for demographic, and statistical purposes.

Birth Certificate: Single Race or Multiracial?

Up until 1999, individuals could only mark one box in terms of heritage, which, as expected, posed not only a dilemma but also inaccuracies when citizens of mixed racial backgrounds filled out a form.

Am I black or white if my mother is African American and my father is white?”

It is easy to imagine all the variations of this question that may go through an individual’s mind when their parents are of different races.

In the last decades, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) expanded its race/ethnicity codes to allow multiple-box-checking for racial data. For the first time in Census 2000, people were offered the choice to self-identify with more than one race. This option continued to be available in the 2010 Census, and 2020 Census. From then on, citizens who identify with multiple race categories have been allowed the option to provide multiple races in response to the race question.

What Are Race Categories?

Race categories are the options presently available to define a citizen’s race in the United States, based on self-identification —not genetics.

The 5 categories for data on race in the US are:

  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Asian
  • Black or African American
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
  • White

The US Census Bureau adheres to the 1997 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) standards on race and ethnicity. These parameters guide the Census Bureau in classifying responses to race information.

As per the OMB, each racial category is defined as follows:

American Indian or Alaska Native, when someone has origins in any of the original peoples of the following, and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment:

  • North America
  • Central America
  • South America

Asian, if a person has origins in any of the original peoples of:

  • The Far East
  • Southeast Asia
  • The Indian subcontinent, including Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam

Black or African American, when people have origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa.

Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, when a person has origins in any of the original peoples of:

  • Hawaii
  • Guam
  • Samoa
  • Other Pacific Islands

White, if an individual has origins in any of the original peoples of:

  • Europe
  • The Middle East
  • North Africa

How To Correct Race on a Birth Certificate

Citizens whose race is stated incorrectly on their birth certificate have the option to correct the error on their birth certificate. The first step in any kind of birth certificate amendment is to order a birth certificate replacement.You can easily order a certified long-form copy of a birth certificate to verify the race stated on the vital record.

Once you have your birth certificate delivered at home, you will need to submit it with the necessary documents as proof —this varies from one state to another — and a birth certificate amendment form **at the State Department of Health Statistics.

Race and Ethnicity Computation for Birth Certificates

The way race and ethnicity has evolved over the years as reflected in the National Vital Statistics Reports. Racial data has now been extended to include specific Hispanic groups, such as:

  • Central American
  • Cuban
  • Dominican
  • Mexican
  • Puerto Rican
  • South American
  • Unknown Hispanic

Texas birth certificates, in particular, have experienced major changes made in 2005 to reflect the way mothers' and fathers' races were allowed to be compiled as multiple races.

Race and ethnicity are expressed separately on all birth and death certificates issued in the State of Texas. Race information is given by the parents before a birth certificate is issued. The child’s race/ethnicity is not filled out when registering their birth, instead, it is calculated based on the parents’ self-stated race and Hispanic origin status of the mother.

The Texas Department of State Health Services, Vital Statistics Unit classifies citizens based on their self-reported race and ethnicity information, as follows:

Race/Ethnicity Computation for Texas Birth Certificates

Race reported by parents Mother’s Hispanic origin Child’s race computed as
White Non-Hispanic, not classifiable White
Black Non-Hispanic, not classifiable Black
Any single race, or multiple races Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, other Hispanic
Asian, American Indian, or Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian, or Other Pacific Islander, other, blank, or unknown Non-Hispanic, not classifiable Other/Unknown

Source (Texas Department of State Health Services):

Source (National Center for Biotechnology Information):