Understanding our region’s Diversity

Breaking Down Demographics

What is the difference between race and ethnicity? 


The Census Bureau has collected data on race and ethnicity since the first census in 1790, and has conducted content tests to research and improve the design and function of questions asked. Over time the census form has reflected changes in society and in turn shifts the way the census bureau classifies race and ethnicity.

Washoe County

Classifying race and ethnicity

Office of Management & Budget (OMB)

The U.S. Census Bureau adheres to the 1997 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) standards on race and ethnicity. OMB Categories:

White – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.

Black or African American – A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.

American Indian or Alaska Native – 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 – 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.

Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.

The 1997 OMB standards guide the Census Bureau in classifying written responses to the race question and permit the reporting of more than one race. An individual’s response to the race question is based upon self-identification. People who identify with more than one race may choose to provide multiple races in response to the race question. The racial categories included in the census questionnaire generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country and not an attempt to define race biologically, anthropologically, or genetically.

People who identify their origin as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be of any race.

“Some Other Race”

Race & Ethnicity
Over Time

One challenge the Census Bureau faces is how Americans view “race” and “ethnicity” over time. The categories are often confusing as our society diversifies further, or there is a desire to see their own specific group reflected on the questionnaire. Research has shown that over time a larger number of people do not identify with the official OMB race categories, and therefore respondents have been classified as “Some Other Race”.

The Some Other Race (SOR) population, was intended to be a small residual category, however in many years was found to be the third largest race group. This is due to reporting by Hispanics, who make up the majority of those classified as SOR. Additionally, other segments of populations such as Afro-Caribbean, Middle Eastern, and North African populations, do not identify with any of the current OMB race categories.

Washoe County

Washoe County

Keeping up with our nation’s diverse population

Research and Strategies

Census Bureau researchers are continuously exploring different strategies to improve question design and data quality, respondent understanding of the questions asked, and the accuracy of the resulting data. Through the Census Bureau’s completed research thus far, results have demonstrated strategies that combined race and ethnicity into one question and addressed challenges and complexities of race and Hispanic origin measurement and reporting.

Additional research for the Census Bureau will be to address community concerns that they have found over the past several years, including the call for more detailed, disaggregated data for our diverse American experiences as German, Mexican, Korean, Jamaican, and myriad other identities.

the importance of data collection

Why Collect Information On Race?


Data on race can be used to promote equal employment opportunities and to assess as well as address racial disparities in health, housing, and environmental risks. Federally this information is required for many programs, and is helpful in policy decision making. Statewide data is used to meet legislative redistricting principles.

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