White ethnicity in twenty-first-century America: Findings from a new national

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The 1980s and early 1990s witnessed a great deal of research on white ethnicity. Yet since this time, few systematic empirical studies of white ethnicity have emerged. This paper uses data from a recent nationally representative survey of Americans to (re)assess white ethnicity in the twenty-first century. Three primary areas are explored: (1) the pervasiveness and salience of ethnic claims among white Americans; (2) the social and demographic characteristics of self-identified white ethnics; and (3) the impact of white ethnic identity on political opinions and racial attitudes. We find that a smaller but significant number of white Americans claim ethnicity today and that distinguishing social characteristics of white ethnics still remain. Contrary to current prevailing theoretical formulations, however, these markers of distinction do not appear to be related to political or racial attitudes in any systematic way.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1310-1331
Number of pages22
JournalEthnic and Racial Studies
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
1. This research has been supported by the Edelstein Family Foundation as part of the American Mosaic Project under the direction of Doug Hartmann, Penny Edgell, and Joe Gerteis in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. Earlier versions were presented at the Annual Meetings of the Midwest Sociological Society in Omaha, NE (March 2006) and at the Annual Meetings of the Eastern Sociological Society in Baltimore, MD (March 2009). We gratefully acknowledge Gerteis’s assistance in formatting the data and generating the tables, and thank the ERS reviewers for their helpful comments. 2. For additional details and documentation, see, respectively, Edgell, Gerteis and Hartmann (2006), and http://www.soc.umn.edu/amp/ampindex.htm 3. As with prior studies (cf. Alba 1990), age is not statistically significant when operationalized linearly. With the exception of age and the county voting measure (which nonetheless approaches significance at p .05), all other independent variables that we present as statistically significant in this analysis are statistically significant when age is specified linearly. Tables are available upon request. 4. It should be noted that although the white privilege questions entailed a split ballot design, there were a sufficient number of respondents for analysis. 5. We note here that sensitivity analyses which operationalized the scaled independent variables differently yielded similar results. Tables are available upon request.


  • Colour-blindness
  • Demography
  • Ethnicity
  • Racial attitudes
  • White ethnic
  • Whiteness


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