White Panethnic Reclassification

In this paper with Cameron Mailhot (in progress) we present evidence that at least 3 million white Americans have ceased to identify with national heritage identities like Irish, German, or Polish, and have reclassified their ancestry to panethnic categories like “European”, “American”, or “Scandinavian.”

Our paper draws on publicly-available responses to American Community Survey items capturing ancestry, and presents evidence that the fastest growing white ethnicity is the imagined category of “European.” We term whites’ decision to reclassify themselves under these constellations as white panethnic reclassification. In our paper, we quantify reclassification from 2009 to 2019, examine the parts of the United States where reclassification is occurring most rapidly, and examine county-level predictors of reclassification.


By 2019, In some counties in the U.S., as many as 60% of inhabitants classified themselves as having white panethnic ancestry.


2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

Colin Cepuran Written by:

Colin Cepuran is a political scientist and a policy analyst working in Kalamazoo, MI.