Inter-observer agreement on subjects' race and race-informative characteristics. Academic Article uri icon


  • Health and socioeconomic disparities tend to be experienced along racial and ethnic lines, but investigators are not sure how individuals are assigned to groups, or how consistent this process is. To address these issues, 1,919 orthodontic patient records were examined by at least two observers who estimated each individual's race and the characteristics that influenced each estimate. Agreement regarding race is high for African and European Americans, but not as high for Asian, Hispanic, and Native Americans. The indicator observers most often agreed upon as important in estimating group membership is name, especially for Asian and Hispanic Americans. The observers, who were almost all European American, most often agreed that skin color is an important indicator of race only when they also agreed the subject was European American. This suggests that in a diverse community, light skin color is associated with a particular group, while a range of darker shades can be associated with members of any other group. This research supports comparable studies showing that race estimations in medical records are likely reliable for African and European Americans, but are less so for other groups. Further, these results show that skin color is not consistently the primary indicator of an individual's race, but that other characteristics such as facial features add significant information.

publication date

  • 2011