The basis of racial classification: Ancestry-informative marker versus social context



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Racial classification is very important in American life as it has a significant impact on many social issues. There have been different approaches to the basis of racial classification. In the latter part of the 19th century, race was believed to be biologically determined. Mid-20th century philosophers embraced structuralism that linked racial designation to social institutions. Late 20th century sociologists adopted constructivism that focused on social factors. In the 1960s, the neutral theory of molecular evolution emerged, supporting a neutral environmental adaptation approach. By the end of the 20th century, sociobiology arose as a new discourse of bio-behavioral predisposition based on molecular findings. In the 21st century, a new group of scholars called for a hybrid approach to racial classification fusing biological and social findings. However, the hybrid approach has not yet established a coherent theoretical framework to explain racial classification. Studies along this line have not provided sufficient evidence based on representative samples. To fill these gaps, this dissertation seeks to examine the bases of racial classification: ancestry-informative marker (AIM) and social context. Two specific research questions guide this study. First, does AIM play a role in racial classification? Second, what is the role of social context in racial classification? This study proposes a theoretical framework for explaining racial classification and two hypotheses for testing. Data from Phosphorus, Inc., are utilized to determine the basis of racial classification. Data combine information for self-identity, identification by others, and AIMs from 9,138 clinical subjects referred to carrier screening from patients undergoing genetic carrier screening. Binary Logistic Regression and cross-tabulation analyses were utilized to test the theoretical framework and hypotheses. The results show that there is a relationship between AIMs and self-reported racial classification. Individuals tend to choose their racial identity based on their ancestry. A significant percentage of patients decided to change their primary racial classification during a genetic consultation. Europeans were more driven than any other groups to change their racial classification. The findings partly support the hypotheses that biological and social forces influence racial classification. These results have implications for improving the theories of race and for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to reconstruct new racial categories.



Racial classification, Ancestry-informative marker, Social context, Hybrid approach, Office of management and budget, Self-identity, Identification by others