‘People of Color’ as a category and identity in the United States

Paul Starr, Edward P. Freeland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Although the category ‘people of color’ has not been adopted by the U. S. Census, it has assumed critical importance in public and social-scientific understanding of population change. But do Americans understand it as a neutral demographic category or a political identity? We provide the first U.S. national estimates for self-identification as a person of color (PoC ID). We also measure dissonance between individuals’ self-identification and the reflected appraisals of others, as well as where Americans draw the boundaries around PoC. PoC ID ranges from 95% among Blacks to 61% among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and 45% among Hispanics. Liberalism significantly increases PoC ID among AAPI, while conservatism reduces PoC ID among Hispanics, but political ideology is unassociated with PoC ID among Blacks. Stronger ethnic group consciousness raises PoC ID among all three groups. Demographic factors (particularly gender, age, and nativity) also influence PoC ID and PoC ID dissonance, but effects vary sharply in direction and significance from one group to another. Our estimate that only 27% of American adults self-identify as PoC suggests caution in assuming that growing populations of Hispanics and Asians will necessarily lead to a national majority who see themselves as people of color.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-67
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


  • People of color
  • identity
  • multiracial
  • panethnicity
  • race


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