Americans’ Attitudes on Racial or Genetic Inheritance: Which is More Predictive?

Forthcoming, Oxford University Press, as part of volume on “Reconsidering Race: Cross-Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Approaches.” edited by Kazuko Suzuki and Diego von Vacano, Texas A&M University

43 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2014

See all articles by Jennifer L. Hochschild

Jennifer L. Hochschild

Harvard University; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Maya Sen

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: November 11, 2013

Abstract

Most American social scientists and legal scholars now concur that the concept of race (like that of ethnicity), boundaries between groups, and purported racial characteristics are socially constructed, with minimal or no biological basis. But many members of the American public do not agree, and many life scientists and medical professionals see group differentiation as a mixture of biological and societal components. This paper explores possible relationships between genetics and race in the eyes of the public. We develop hypotheses, then test them on a new public opinion survey of approximately 4,000 U.S. adults conducted in 2011. Respondents’ understanding of the relationships among race, genes, and traits or illnesses is coherent, sensible, and reasonably predictable. Respondents perceive more individual genetic inheritance than racial inheritance; presented with different outcomes, they vary in the importance attributed to inheritance or to the environment; and views are intelligibly related to individual factors such as respondents’ levels of education and political worldview. Overall, Americans are more social constructionists than biological determinists, but they do not reject the idea of links between genetics and racial groups.

Keywords: genetic inheritance, social construction, race, genomics, traits or behaviors

Suggested Citation

Hochschild, Jennifer L. and Sen, Maya, Americans’ Attitudes on Racial or Genetic Inheritance: Which is More Predictive? (November 11, 2013). Forthcoming, Oxford University Press, as part of volume on “Reconsidering Race: Cross-Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Approaches.” edited by Kazuko Suzuki and Diego von Vacano, Texas A&M University. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2476056

Jennifer L. Hochschild (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-0181 (Phone)
617-495-0438 (Fax)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Maya Sen

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

HOME PAGE: http://scholar.harvard.edu/msen

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