How Is Race Determined on a Birth Certificate?

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1 Identifying Information

Birth certificates contain a good deal of information, much of it personal identifying information. The types of details recorded vary among jurisdictions. Some birth certificates indicate the infant’s birth order among his or her siblings. Race and ethnicity may also be included, but not always. In some cases, the certified copy records the parents’ address and the name and signature of the attending physician at the time the infant was born.

2 Recording Race

Births in the U.S. are registered locally. The information is then forwarded to both a regional and national center, where the statistics are compiled. In some states, both the mother and father’s race are noted on the birth certificate, although certain jurisdictions list only the mother’s race. Basic race categories are Black, White, Asian, American Indian or Alaskan Native (AIAN) and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (NHOPI). Some birth certificates allow for the listing of multiple races.

3 Race for Statistical Purposes

Some states ask parents for other information that is not included on a certified copy of the birth certificate. This may include mother and father’s race and ethnicity, highest level of education completed and type of occupation. Many state departments of health now ask parents to complete a birth certificate worksheet that provides information to help hospitals prepare a child’s birth certificate. Much of the information requested is for statistical purposes and is considered to be confidential. Information that may not appear on the birth certificate includes the mother’s/father’s date of birth; social security number; birthplace; and city, township or borough where they reside. Race and ethnicity of the parents also may not appear on the child’s birth certificate.

4 Types of Birth Certificates

In the U.S., each state’s Office of Vital Statistics or Division of Vital Records keeps a record of each birth, issuing certified copies of the certificate when requested. The hospital where the birth occurs forwards the information to the state. A short form birth certificate or wallet-size birth card usually contains information such as the name of the person to whom the certificate is being issued, and the person’s sex, date of birth and county of birth. A file number and the date the birth was filed are also included on the card. The long form birth certificate is a copy of the original birth record prepared by the hospital or physician who delivered the baby. This document includes the legal name of the person to whom the certificate is being issued, the person’s date of birth, mother’s maiden name, father’s name and county of birth. Other information includes a file number, date the record was filed and date the birth certificate was issued. Long forms usually include the race of the parents.

Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.