Concepts of race and ethnicity among health researchers: Patterns and implications

Roberta D. Baer, Erika Arteaga, Karen Dyer, Aimee Eden, Rosalyn Gross, Hannah Helmy, Margaret Karnyski, Airia Papadopoulos, Doug Reeser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Objectives. This study adds to the discussion of appropriate categories of analysis in health research. We contribute data based on actual interviews about the concepts of race and ethnicity, conducted among a broad range of US health researchers. Design. In-person qualitative interviews were conducted with 73 scientists at two health research institutions, one that focused on public health research, and one that focused on research about a specific disease. This represents a larger and more interdisciplinary sample of health researchers than has been previously interviewed about these topics. Results. We identify a core model of how race and ethnicity are understood. The respondents were confused about the concepts of race and ethnicity and their link to genetic differences between populations; many treated these concepts as interchangeable and genetically based. Although ethnicity was considered somewhat more socially constructed, it was often felt to cause unhealthy behavior. In addition, the situation is not improving; the younger health researchers tended to put a stronger emphasis on the genetic aspects of race than did the older health researchers. Conclusion. Unlike reviews of how these concepts are used in scientific publications in which race and ethnicity are often undefined, our face-to-face interviews with these researchers allowed an understanding of their concepts of race and ethnicity. Building on their actual perspectives, these data suggest alternative approaches to formal and continuing educational training for health researchers. We recommend beginning with discussions of human diversity, and then moving on to what race and ethnicity are - and are not.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-225
Number of pages15
JournalEthnicity and Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Ethnicity
  • Health researchers
  • Qualitative research
  • Race

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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