Sociologist links poverty and employment to racial identity

Sociologist links poverty and employment to racial identity

University of California, Irvine

Laura Rico, University Communications

Andrew Penner studies how social status shapes ethnicity

Andrew Penner studies how perception of race can change, depending on one’s social status.Losing your job or doing jail time can affect how people perceive your racial background, according to a recent study co-authored by Andrew Penner, UC Irvine sociology assistant professor. His research shows people who were identified by others as white were significantly less likely to be seen in the same way over time if they had fallen below the poverty line or spent time in prison. Participants who self-identified as white also were less likely to see themselves the same way if they encountered those hardships. The study suggests that racial identity is fluid and changes with one’s position in society. Penner discussed the impact of his research and why race still matters…

Q: What surprised you most about your findings?

A:  The widespread pattern of our results was surprising. Many people assume that our findings apply only to people who don’t fit readily into racial categories, such as those who are multiracial. But we found that roughly 20 percent of the population experiences at least one change in how they are seen by others, which is much higher than you would expect if this were true only for multiracial people. What we actually found is that once we removed all of the multiracial people from the sample, we still got the same pattern of results. The same thing is true for Hispanics; many people assume that we got this pattern of results because people are not sure how to classify Hispanics, but when we looked only at non-Hispanics, the same pattern emerged. This suggests our results say something more general about definitions and perceptions of race in the U.S…

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