This article focuses on the connections between race, ethnicity, and family in the context of sociological study. It explores the sociology of race, ethnicity, and family in three parts: an overview of the sociology of race and ethnicity, the history of race and ethnicity in the United States, the sociology of the family, major racial and ethnic groups in the United States, and family structures of ethnic groups living in the United States; a description of the ways in which sociologists study the effects that race, ethnicity, and family have on a wide variety of social behaviors; and a discussion of the issues associated with the US federal government's classifications of race and ethnicity. Understanding how sociologists conceptualize and study the connections between race, ethnicity, and family is vital for those interested in the sociology of family and relationships.
Keywords African American; American Indian; Asian; Ethnicity; Family; Native Hawaiian; Hispanic; Race; White
Understanding how sociologists conceptualize and study the connections between race, ethnicity, and family is vital for those interested in the sociology of family and relationships. Common sociological questions concerning race, ethnicity, and family include the following:
- How are race, ethnicity, and family connected?
- Are different races and ethnicities associated with particular family structures?
- Do race, ethnicity, and family structure influence individual or societal development and experience?
With these questions in mind, the following is an overview of the sociology and history of race and ethnicity in the United States.
Sociology of Race
Social scientists study the economic, social, and political experiences of different races and ethnicities. According to Brown, Hitlin, and Elder (2006; citing Pearlman and Waters, 2002), "ethnicity involves grouping people by geographic origins, while race—in the demographic sense . . . —involves specialized groupings by ancestry as understood through the prism of American history" (p. 412). While many sociologists differentiate between race and ethnicity, others criticize this practice, suggesting that a sociological distinction between race and ethnicity is an obsolete analytical construct that may obscure or obstruct the fluid processes of identity making and group identification (Brown, Hitlin, & Elder, 2006).
Sociologists concern themselves with both the objective and the subjective experiences of race and ethnicity, focusing on areas of inquiry such as demographics, discrimination, racism, desegregation, immigration, racial profiling, social inequality, race-based policies, pluralism, and multiculturalism. They increasingly explore how race and ethnicity affect and interact with the individual experience or practice of religion, nationality, identity, sexuality, education, income, gender roles, and family structure.
The History of Race
The categories of race and ethnicity have influenced American society and scholarship since the founding of the modern state. The federal government, with the help of applied social scientists, has collected race-based statistics since the first population census in 1790. During this census, African American slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person, and American Indians were not counted. During the eighteenth century, race, which was believed to influence character, moral, intellect, and ultimately rights, was viewed as relevant and important for analysis of social, political, and economic variables. Since 1900, the US federal government has used 26 different racial terms to identify populations in the US Census.
Race and ethnicity has influenced voting, housing, education, and civil rights policy in the United States from the eighteenth century through the present. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Civil Rights movement raised public consciousness about the discrimination faced by minority groups in public and private institutions, and programs such as affirmative action and the Civil Rights Act were created to remedy race-based economic and social discrimination in America. In the twenty-first century, the definition of race no longer has connotations of rank and superiority, but the category of race remains influential in government census taking and policy making (Chiswick, 1984).
Sociologists study various types of family structures. The traditional nuclear family, a concept identified and named by sociologists in the 1950s, refers to a unit of family that includes two heterosexual parents and their children. Sociologists began identifying and naming alternative family structures in the 1960s and 1970s. Alternative family structures refer to non-traditional family structures such as cohabitation, gay and lesbian families, single parents, family networks, affiliated families, and communes.
In addition to sociologists, the US government also engages in significant efforts to gather data on families and define (and thus, in some respects, legitimize) certain family structures. In 2012, the US Census Bureau collected the following data about the US population's family structures. Of the total population, approximately 48 percent of American adults were married and living with their spouse. Of families with only one parent, approximately 41 percent of single parents had never married, 5 percent were widowed, 18 percent were separated, and 36 percent were divorced (Vespa, Lewis, & Kreider, 2013).
In 2011, the total population of 311.6 million people lived in 115 million discrete households. Of these 115 million households, 66.2 percent contained an officially recognized family unit. (The government defines a family as two or more people related by blood, marriage, or adoption.) A little less than half of all family households (48.8 percent) included children under the age of eighteen. That said, only 31.6 percent of family households were traditional or nuclear families with married parents and minor children. The remaining types of households were people living alone (27.7 percent of all households), two or more unrelated people living together (6.0 percent), married couples with no children under eighteen (27.3 percent), and nontraditional family structures not headed by a married couple of opposite sexes (17.9 percent) (Vespa, Lewis, & Kreider, 2013).
The number of traditional families dropped approximately 18 percentage points between 1970 and 2011. In 2012, single-mother families numbered 12.0 million, of which 10.3 million included children under eighteen; single-father families numbered 2.5 million, with 2.0 million having children under eighteen (Vespa, Lewis, & Kreider, 2013). Of all children under age eighteen, 6.2 percent live in households headed by one or more grandparent (US Census Bureau, 2012). Difficulty in gathering demographic data on families is due to reporting error, unofficial family relationships and structures, and limitations of census categories.
This section describes the major ethnic groups living in the United States. The US federal government's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is responsible for establishing the standards and categories used to measure and assess race and ethnicity in America. As specified in the Statistical Policy Directive No. 15, the OMB recognizes five categories for race and two for ethnicity, which are used for federal statistics, program administration, and civil rights enforcement. The race categories are American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and White; the ethnicity categories are Hispanic or Latino and Not Hispanic or Latino.
- American Indian or Alaska Native refers to "a person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment."
- Asian refers to "a person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam."
- Black or African American refers to "a person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. Terms such as 'Haitian' or 'Negro' can be used in addition to 'Black or African American.'"
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander refers to "a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands."
- White refers to "a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa."
- Hispanic or Latino refers to "a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race. The term 'Spanish origin' can be used in addition to 'Hispanic or Latino'" (Office of Management and Budget, 1997).
These categories are the product of 1997 revisions that made the following changes:
- First, the Asian or Pacific Islander category was separated into two separate categories, "Asian"...
Alexa Rain 3 months agofrom egypt
A lot of inspired topics and issues,
you always help in finding ways by arrange your reader thinking and informative things.
i am big fan of you.
Virginia Kearney 4 months agofrom United States
Hi Christina--My articles on how to write can help you! Find them by looking to the side or on my profile page. Or just use Google and type what you need with my name.
Christinaaa 4 months ago
I'm trying to write an argument research paper on social media and mental illness or social media and relationships but I'm having trouble narrowing my topic and creating the key points for my paper.
Virginia Kearney 5 months agofrom United States
Hi Rosie--You have a good topic and an interesting personal connection. I'd suggest that you do a frame story introduction and conclusion. Start with your situation and then stop part-way through and ask the question: should you call CPS? Then do your answer and tell why or why not. Finish with telling the end of your story. See my articles on "How to write an argument paper" and "How to write a position paper" for full instructions.
rosie 5 months ago
Wondering how to write a position essay. Topic should you call Child Protective Services. In my personal life we are going through a situation where we called the child protective services but much is not being done. Was thinking if I choose this topic I could write some of our family's frustration about the situation, don't know how to go about writing this essay
Virginia Kearney 6 months agofrom United States
Khen--You can find help if you look for my articles about how to write different kinds of position or argument papers. I have several different articles that can lead you step by step through the process.
Khen 6 months ago
Can you please help me in my position paper?
Virginia Kearney 7 months agofrom United States
Roami, You have an interesting idea. I think one way for you to get some good information to start your paper is to research why local languages are not included in the instruction first. Next, you might want to interview some people to find out their positions and to get some quotes on this topic. Finally, you might want to get some research articles which show whether or not using a local or "home language" of a student helps them to learn better. In the United States, research has shown that students who receive some instruction in their own language at least at first often do better in the long run than a child who is "fully immersed" in English. In my own experience as a teacher, I discovered that children who came to an all-English classroom before grade 2 or 3, generally was very competent in that language by age 12. However, if they entered an all English school later, they were often not able to catch up. However, that only works if the child is in a school where no one else speaks their native language (as is often true in the U.S. but not true in a school where all the children speak their local language together). You have a wonderful topic and one that is very important for your country to consider. I wish you great success in your paper.
roami 7 months ago
pls, i need u to look into this position topic for me. Should local languages be made as compulsory as religious languages in schools
Virginia Kearney 9 months agofrom United States
Hi Sam, you might want to try my article about Funny Argumentative Essay Topic Ideas, or else do the negative of any idea here or in one of my many other argument essays. In a "devil's advocate" paper, you want to go against what most people think. Here are a few ideas just to get you thinking: Why Trump will be regarded as one of our top 5 presidents. Why we should leave ISIS alone. Why race is less a problem in America than Europe. Why the leader of North Korea isn't really crazy.
Sam 9 months ago
I have this assignment of playing the role of devil's advocate and I can't think of a good topic!
( I personally prefer a political related topic).
Virginia Kearney 12 months agofrom United States
Aidyn-You add a very interesting position topic. I had not thought about schools making rules against fasting but it certainly could hurt a child's performance in school if they were fasting for a longer period than a day or two. That could cause a school to be concerned. Thanks for your comment and idea.
Aidyn Krikorian 12 months ago
I greatly appreciate your website, and I have a suggestion for a topic. "Should we allow fasting or other religious acts in schools?" This topic facsinates me and I do hope you will consider it. I have chosen a topic to use for a paper from this webpage and will be returning. Thank you, Aidyn.
Virginia Kearney 12 months agofrom United States
Rose--You did not mention what aspect of culture you are writing about which makes it hard to help you. However, for example, if you are writing a paper arguing to people that only like modern music that classical music is worth listening to, you could start by talking about what you agree with about modern music and acknowledge why people of your generation might prefer to listen to it. Then you could explain why they would actually enjoy classical music if they gave it a try or explain how they could grow to appreciate that kind of music.
rose lasu 12 months ago
I need help on my regerian Argument eassy on culture. I dont now how to start it, Does anyone knows how.thanks
Preston Heard 14 months ago
These are great topics for the upcoming research essays. I will definitely be using one of them. Thank you for this resource!
Aaron Gibson 14 months ago
Excited for your class this semester!
Matt Hartman 14 months ago
This article along with many of the other articles you have written will be very helpful this semester! I'm looking forward to your class!
Virginia Kearney 16 months agofrom United States
Look for my articles about how to write argument or position essays for lots of ideas on how to introduce essays and find sources. Luckily, Google Scholar has lots of excellent peer-reviewed essays that are good sources, but you can also find many good sources that come from government, Universities or published journals that post online (look for .gov, .edu or a journal that also appears in print). One easy way to start your introduction is to tell a story about a student who is generally shy (or maybe bullied) but gets excited (and more included by others) when they are able to share about their own culture during a multiculturalism unit.
jenn 16 months ago
I am doing an Apa essay on "should schools be required to teach multiculturalism" any idea on how I should start my intro and what sources I should use?
Virginia Kearney 17 months agofrom United States
Bebe--You don't tell me whether your paper is a research paper or not, but I've written many articles on how to write different sorts of essays. You can use the search engine on HubPages to find them, or look at the links that usually appear when you pull up one of my articles. Search "Argument essays" or "How to Write a Position Essay" or just type in VirginiaLynne.
To start a paper on your topic, I think I would use a story in the introduction showing a miscommunication when people don't talk face to face.
bebe 17 months ago
Hey . Can you please help me in my position paper . I dont how to start . My topic is cellphone,texts and emails are not as good as talking face to face . It is from yours sample :) thank you
B-RAD 24 months ago
I think that is video gaming good or bad is a great topic to choose.
Virginia Kearney 2 years agofrom United States
Yes Alsaifl, I think that "What is beauty?" could be a topic. You are right that your answer would be a definition claim.
Jumanah Alsaif 2 years ago
Is the topics What is true beauty? (definition) a good topic for a position paper? I was thinking of writing how the definition of beauty is different for each individual
Brittany Adams 14 2 years ago
Thank you so much for posting! This helps a lot with my writing!
Tariq Ali Khan 2 years ago
Excellent work buddy! Thank you so much !
Kristen Howe 2 years agofrom Northeast Ohio
Great topics for a variety of essays for everyone who needs to be inspired. Voted up for useful!
Joanna 3 years ago
That Tom Hanks video is hilarious. These ideas are very thought-provoking and inspiring!
Virginia Kearney 3 years agofrom United States
Cindy A. So glad I was able to give you some good information!
Cindy A. 3 years ago
Unbelievable. You have helped me enormously. Thank you so much
Bluerider 3 years ago
Thank you for these great topics.
VJG 3 years agofrom Texas
This would be an interesting article for school students. They always seem to struggle for essay ideas.
Virginia Kearney 3 years agofrom United States
Hi Safa--Here are the main steps:
1. Choose a question you are going to write about. Then think about what your answer to the question is going to be.
2. Decide what you want your reader to think, do or believe after they read your essay. That is your thesis (the answer to your question).
3. Decide who you want to persuade to believe this (that is your reader or audience). Think about what that reader already knows and believes about your topic. That will help you develop your arguments. The reader should not be someone who already believes what you do. If they do, you aren't really arguing are you?
4. Think of at least 3 reasons why your reader should believe your thesis. Those reasons will be the main body part of your essay.
5. Think of examples or evidence which supports each of those reasons. That is what you will use to support those three reasons.
6. What objections will your reader have? Write those out and also your answers to those objections. This will be a paragraph after your reasons.
7. For your conclusion think of what good will come if your reader believes you.
I've written more in detail about this in my article: https://owlcation.com/academia/How-to-Write-an-Arg...
Virginia Kearney 4 years agofrom United States
Hi katha- if you look at the bottom right blue box I have the links to sample essays. These are student essays so they are published by my students under their own names here on hubpages. Maybe I should move these up on the page so you can find them more easily.
Virginia Kearney 4 years agofrom United States
Samarah--Yes I think that vaccinating children is a very good topic. You can also narrow that to particular types of vaccinations that are new like the chickenpox vaccine or the HPV. Another possible argument on this topic is whether or not it is true that vaccines are the main reason for better health in people today than in the past.
samarah15 4 years ago
Is the right to vaccinate children a good topic?
Virginia Kearney 4 years agofrom United States
I think you can do something related to obesity or how different types of food are good or bad for your health. Or you can talk about GMO foods or organic or locally grown produce.
Virginia Kearney 5 years agofrom United States
Xstatic--I love the fact that you do have a position on everything--I like to look at all sides of things and that is great as an instructor teaching positions, because I can play the devils advocate, but sometimes I do need to just nail down my own point of view!
Jim Higgins 5 years agofrom Eugene, Oregon
A great "how to" for position papers. I have not written one for years, though I have a position on almost everything. Useful Hub and well done as usual.