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Setting the Standards for Collecting Ethnicity Data in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Hawkins, Summer Sherburne PhD; Torres, Brunilda LicSW; May, Georgia Simpson MA; Cohen, Bruce B. PhD

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: November/December 2011 - Volume 17 - Issue 6 - p 550–553
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e318215a4c7

The 1997 revision to Federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Directive No. 15 Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting provides standard classifications for reporting broad race categories and Hispanic/non-Hispanic ethnicity. However, the current system may be masking disparities in health behaviors and outcomes across ethnic groups. Since 2000, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has been developing an alternative approach to collecting race, ethnicity, and language preference data to better serve the local population. Our data collection tool adheres to OMB standards but captures detailed ethnicity data independent of broad race categories. We believe that training personnel is an essential component of data collection, and we are planning to develop online training materials. Although we encourage states to learn from our experience, data need to be comparable within and across states as well as over time to monitor health disparities.

This study aimed at setting the standards for collecting race, ethnicity, and language preference data to better serve the local population.

Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, Harvard School of Public Health, Cambridge (Dr Hawkins); Office of Health Equity (Ms May), and Division of Research and Epidemiology (Dr Cohen), Massachusetts Department of Public Health and Cornu Management Company (Ms Torres), Boston, Massachusetts.

Correspondence: Bruce Cohen, PhD, Division of Research and Epidemiology, Bureau of Health Information, Statistics, Research and Evaluation, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, 250 Washington St., 6th floor, Boston, MA 02108 (

Summer Sherburne Hawkins is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at the Harvard University site in Boston, Massachusetts. There was no additional funding source for this study.

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Copyright © 2011 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.