Brazil in Black and White? Race Categories and the Study of Inequality

Mara Loveman, University of Wisconsin at Madison
Stanley R. Bailey, University of California, Irvine
Jeronimo O. Muniz, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG)

Many scholars advocate the adoption of a black-and-white lens for analysis of racial inequality in Brazil. Drawing on a nationally representative dataset that includes race questions in multiple formats, we evaluate how removal of the ‘brown’ category from social surveys would likely affect (1) the descriptive picture of Brazil’s racial composition, and (2) estimates of income inequality between and within racial groups. We find that a forced binary question format results in a whiter and more racially unequal picture of Brazil through the movement of many higher income mixed-race respondents into the white category. We also find that regardless of question format, racial inequality in income accounts for relatively little of Brazil’s overall income inequality. We discuss implications for public policy debates in Brazil and for the broader scientific and political challenges of ethnic and racial data collection and analysis.

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Presented in Session 175: Rethinking Racial Distinctions