The IPUMS variables RACEBR and RACENEW are based on separate underlying variables released by the NCHS in the original NHIS data files, though both variables are based on the same survey question. RACENEW reports the main racial background; in contrast RACEBR categories capture additional information, specifically about persons reporting more than one race. The OMB standards set the minimum categories to include; RACENEW generally meets these (though Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander is suppressed because of privacy concerns) while RACEBR provides additional detail beyond the OMB standards.
The comparability tab for RACENEW provides additional information about how multiple race and other race responses are handled in this variable:
- Beginning in 2000, persons self-reporting multiple Asian races were coded as “Asian” in RACENEW; persons self-reporting multiple American Indian/Alaskan native races were combined as “American Indian/Alaskan Native”; persons reporting any other combination of multiple races were coded as “Multiple Race.”
- The “Other race” category is not available in RACENEW from 2003-2018; persons who report an OMB race group as well as “Other Race” in 2003-2018 are assigned to the OMB race group; persons who report only “Other Race” are treated as missing and their race is imputed.
- Beginning in 2003, a new category, “Primary Race Not Releasable,” was added to preserve the privacy of persons whose race category had very few members in the survey (e.g., “Native Hawaiians/Other Pacific Islander”).
- In 2000-2018, “unknown” responses were no longer included in the data. Instead, the NHIS began imputing race (and Hispanic origin) to improve overall quality of the data.
I would still expect that the majority of cases would have the same assignment between the two variables, but would not be surprised to see the following differences based on the comparability information in RACENEW:
- Persons who are classified as “Multiple race” in RACEBR who are assigned to a single race category in RACENEW (e.g., persons who report one OMB race group and “Other race” or persons who report more than one Asian race).
- Persons who have a more detailed Asian race in RACEBR who are assigned to the broad “Asian” category in RACENEW (e.g., persons who report their race as “Chinese”).
- Persons who are classified as “Other race” in RACEBR who are assigned to any of the following RACENEW categories:
- a single OMB race group (e.g., persons whose race is imputed because they don’t provide additional detail),
- “Primary race not releasable” (e.g., persons who report a single race that cannot be released because of privacy concerns, such as Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander),
- “Multiple race” (I am less certain on this, but suspect that persons who report more than one “Other race” and did not select a main racial background, or who report “Other race” paired with a group that is not releasable may end up in this category; I also see cases where race/ethnicity was imputed to “Multiple race” in RACENEW for persons assigned to “Other race” in RACEBR).
Which variable you use depends on your specific research application; I would encourage you to think about how RACENEW might mask more detailed information available in RACEBR and if that is appropriate for your work.