Does the Census Miss the Native-Born Children of Immigrant Mothers? Evidence from State-Level Undercount by Race and Hispanic Status

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Despite research going back over a century showing the U.S. census counts some groups more accurately than others at the national level, little is known about how undercount varies within the country. I focus on a population easily measured with administrative data yet known to suffer high levels of undercount—native-born young children—to document state-level variation in undercount by race and Hispanic status. Although the race-specific analysis is only possible for the 2000 census, the patterns I show for all children are similar to those in 2010, implying the results from 2000 are likely relevant to today. Undercount levels vary widely across states, with non-Black children having the highest rates in the south and southwest, and Black children in the northeast. Results by Hispanic status show non-Black Hispanic young children are highly undercounted in several states with high Hispanic populations, but not all, and are also highly undercounted in the northeast and New England. In several states with high non-Black Hispanic undercounts, non-Black non-Hispanic children are also undercounted at a high rate. I find a very strong correlation between the fraction of births to foreign-born mothers in the state and the undercount of Black and non-Black children—in fact, it is the strongest correlate with the undercount of native-born Black children of those I investigate. The fraction of foreign-born mothers does not correlate with the undercount of non-Black Hispanic and non-Hispanic young children, although Hispanic status of the parents do. My results suggest a group-specific, local focus for future work is needed to determine the causes of census undercount.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-195
Number of pages57
JournalPopulation Research and Policy Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.


  • Children
  • Immigrants
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Undercount
  • United States Census

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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