How Is Race Determined on Birth Certificates?

Woman asking about how is race determined on a birth certificate

Race determination on vital records, like birth and death certificates, is actually fairly complex.

When a baby is born, their parent(s) will fill out a Certificate of Live Birth, which is then used to create their U.S. birth certificate. While the form does ask for the race of each of the parents listed, it is completely dependent on how they identify themselves.

After the form is completed and verified by the hospital, it will be sent to the Vital Records Office. They will create a new birth certificate based on the information provided. So, in short, your race on your birth certificate is determined by what your parents put on the form.

Is there a multiracial option on birth certificates?

Until 1999, you could only choose one race or ethnicity when filling out a birth certificate form. As you can imagine, this caused some issues for multiracial citizens. They had to choose, for example, between black and white, even if their parents had different racial backgrounds and so they themselves were a mix of both.

However, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) has since changed and added to its race and ethnicity codes, allowing people to select more than just one race. In the 2000 Census, individuals were given the option to self-identify as multiple races for the first time. Since then, multi-race options have continued to be allowed.

What is a Race Category?

Race categories are simply the race/ethnicity options currently listed for citizens to self-identify as. Presently, the racial data categories in the US are:

  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Asian
  • Black or African American
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
  • White

The US Census Bureau classifies responses to race information, based on the 1997 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) standards on ethnicity/race, which are defined as follows:

American Indian or Alaska Native – origins in any of the original peoples of the following, and maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment:

  • North America
  • Central America
  • South America

Asian – origins in any of the original peoples of:

  • The Far East
  • Southeast Asia
  • The Indian subcontinent, including Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam

Black or African American – origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa.

Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander – origins in any of the original peoples of:

  • Hawaii
  • Guam
  • Samoa
  • Other Pacific Islands

White – origins in any of the original peoples of:

  • Europe
  • The Middle East
  • North Africa

How to Correct Race on a Birth Certificate

If your race is reported incorrectly, you do have the option to correct your birth certificate. In order to file for a birth certificate amendment, you will need to order a certified birth certificate copy. You will need the long-form version, since this version contains race information.

Order your birth certificate copy

Your birth certificate will be mailed straight to your home. Then, you’ll need to gather some documents to prove the error and the correction and complete a birth certificate amendment form. Acceptable documents and the process for applying for an amendment vary by state. So, you’ll need to check with your birth state’s Vital Records Office for detailed information.

Some states allow you to request changes on your own, as long as you provide suitable documentation and evidence of the error. However, other states require you to petition the courts for race changes on your birth certificate. If this is the case for your birth state, then you will need to contact the court clerk to find out more about the amendment process. They will be able to provide you with the necessary forms and explain how the correction process works. You may be required to go before a judge to petition your case, or the court may simply examine your application and approve or deny it.

Changes Made to Race and Ethnicity on Birth Certificates

According to the National Vital Statistics Reports, many changes have been made to the race and ethnicity options on birth certificates over the last several years. For example, specific Hispanic groups are now offered, including:

  • Central American
  • Cuban
  • Dominican
  • Mexican
  • Puerto Rican
  • South American
  • Unknown Hispanic

Since 2005, Texas birth certificates have undergone substantial changes to allow multiple races for the parents of the child.

Now, the child’s race is calculated based on the information the parents provide about their own ethnicity.  

The Texas Department of State Health Services, Vital Statistics Unit classifies citizens based on their self-reported race and ethnicity information, as follows:

Race/Ethnicity Computation for Texas Birth Certificates

Race reported by parentsMother’s Hispanic originChild’s race computed as
WhiteNon-Hispanic, not classifiableWhite
BlackNon-Hispanic, not classifiableBlack
Any single race, or multiple racesMexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, otherHispanic
Asian, American Indian, or Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian, or Other Pacific Islander, other, blank, or unknownNon-Hispanic, not classifiableOther/Unknown

Source (Texas Department of State Health Services):

Source (National Center for Biotechnology Information):

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