Thursday, February 3, 2011

Stereotyping Beyond the Grave?

What will your death certificate say about you?

It will most likely list your cause of death, sex, age and a slew of other details.

But what about your race? If you're not alive to tell a coroner the race you best identify with, how will he or she know for sure?

A new study published in the journal of Public Library of Science reveals that a person's cause of death may influence racial classification on his death certificate.

Researchers found that 1.1 percent of death certificates in their sample racially classify a deceased person differently than how family or friends would. The group discovered that this mismatch was more common among death certificates that listed homicide or cirrhosis -- a condition from liver disease -- as a cause of death.

Using data from the 1993 National Mortality Followback Survey (NMFS), the team -- led by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Oregon -- assessed 22,905 U.S. death records and follow-up descriptions from the deceased's next of kin.

After controlling other factors such as sex, education, occupation, geographic region and income, the researchers found that people who died of cirrhosis were more than twice as likely to be classified as Native American than white on their death certificates. In addition, people who were victims to homicide were more than six times more likely to be classified as black than white.

The authors suggest that inconsistencies in classifying race on death certificates result from stereotyping. For instance, even though cirrhosis was more prevalent among Native Americans at the time, they write, the prevalence of the disease is still overstated in the data with other social and demographic factors considered.

"We didn’t find much inconsistency, but we shouldn’t be finding these patterns by cause of death at all,” said co-author and University of Oregon assistant professor Aliya Saperstein in a UC-Irvine press release. “Either there shouldn’t be discrepancies or they should be more randomly distributed. The skew we found reinforces existing racial disparities.”

English, Marianne. 2011. "Stereotyping Beyond the Grave?". Discovery News. Posted: January 31, 2011. Available online:

No comments: