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Press Release · January 18, 2000

Multiracial And Multiethnic Infants Represent Third Largest Category Of Births In California

Regions of the State Show Surprising Differences in Rates of Multiracial/ethnic Births

San Francisco, California, January 18, 2000 – In a timely precursor to the year 2000 census, which for the first time will allow respondents to check more than one race, a new analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California finds that multiracial and multiethnic births now represent nearly 15 percent of all births in the state.

In fact, multiracial/ethnic births are now the third largest category of births in California – behind Hispanics and whites – outnumbering births to both Asians and blacks. In 1997, births to couples in which one partner was white non-Hispanic and the other was Hispanic accounted for 53 percent of multiracial/ethnic births.

The analysis, Check One or More…Mixed Race and Ethnic Identity in California, found that as a percentage of total births in the state, multiracial/ethnic births rose from just under 12 percent in 1982 to just over 14 percent in 1997, representing a numerical increase from about 50,000 births annually to about 70,000. The rather surprising absence of strong growth at the statewide level can be explained in large part by the fact that foreign-born immigrant mothers – who give birth to just under half of all newborns in the state – are less likely to have a multiracial/ethnic child, according to the author.

“The increase in multiracial/ethnic births is primarily a phenomenon among women born in the U.S.,” said Sonya Tafoya, a PPIC research associate. ” Such births to native-born mothers rose dramatically between 1982 and 1997, from about 14 percent to about 21 percent – a 50 percent change over just 15 years.”

For this and other related reasons, counties that have a lower percentage of immigrant mothers also tend to have a higher percentage of multiracial/ethnic births, while counties with a higher percentage of immigrant mothers have a lower percentage of such births. In 1997, 27 percent of new mothers in Sacramento County were foreign born and 19 percent of births were multiracial/ethnic. In Los Angeles County, 58 percent of mothers were foreign-born and only 10 percent of births were multiracial/ethnic.

Tafoya says it’s still too early to gauge the policy effects of a growing multiracial population. “The population of California is clearly redefining itself. The question that we must confront in the coming years is how we will ensure the civil rights of a population that is outgrowing the monoracial categories upon which civil rights laws have been interpreted.”

The Public Policy Institute of California is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to objective, nonpartisan research on economic, social, and political issues that affect the lives of Californians. The Institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.