Professor Saperstein received her B.A. in Sociology from the University of Washington and her Ph.D. in Sociology and Demography from the University of California-Berkeley. In 2016, she received the Early Achievement Award from the Population Association of America. She has also been a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation and Sciences Po (Paris).
Her research focuses on the social processes through which people come to perceive, name, and deploy seemingly immutable categorical differences —such as race and sex—and their consequences for explaining, and reinforcing, social inequality. Her current research projects explore several strands of this subject, including:
1) The implications of methodological decisions, especially the measurement of race/ethnicity and sex/gender in surveys, for studies of stratification and health disparities.
2) The relationship between individual-level category fluidity or ambiguity and the maintenance of group boundaries, racial stereotypes, and hierarchies.
This research has been published for social science audiences in the American Journal of Sociology, the Annual Review of Sociology, Demography, Ethnic & Racial Studies, and Gender & Society, among other venues, and for general science audiences in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and PLoS One. It also has been recognized with multiple article awards, and gained attention from national media outlets, including NPR and The Colbert Report.
Associate Professor, Sociology
Director, Co-terminal Master's Program, Department of Sociology (2016 - 2021)
Faculty Affiliate, Center for Population Health Sciences (2015 - Present)
Faculty Affiliate, Program in Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies (2013 - Present)
Faculty Affiliate, Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (2011 - Present)
Assistant Professor, University of Oregon (2008 - 2011)
Honors & Awards
Early Career Award, Population Association of America (2016)
Visiting Scholar, LIEPP, Sciences Po (2016)
Faculty Fellow, Center for Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity (2015-2016)
Editor's Choice Award, Demographic Research (2015)
Faculty College Fellow, Stanford University (2014 - 2015)
Visiting Scholar, Russell Sage Foundation (2014 - 2015)
Kimberle Crenshaw Best Article Award, SSSP Racial and Ethnic Minorities Division (2014)
Oliver Cromwell Cox Best Article Award, ASA Section on Racial and Ethnic Minorities (2014)
IPUMS Research Award, Minnesota Population Center (2013)
Roger Gould Prize, American Journal of Sociology (2013)
Faculty Fellow, Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Stanford University (2012 - 2013)
Poster Award, Population Association of America Annual Meeting (with A. Penner & J. Kizer) (2012)
Chancellor’s Dissertation-Year Fellowship, University of California (2007 - 2008)
Phi Beta Kappa, University of Washington (1999)
Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
B.A., University of Washington, Seattle, Sociology (1999)
M.A., University of California, Berkeley, Sociology (2004)
M.A., University of California, Berkeley, Demography (2005)
Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, Sociology and Demography (2008)
Diversity and Identity
Poverty and Inequality
Race and Ethnicity
- Conflicting signals: Exploring the socioeconomic implications of gender discordant names SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH 2023; 110
- Identification in Interaction: Racial Mirroring between Interviewers and Respondents SOCIAL FORCES 2022
Consistent Divisions or Methodological Decisions? Assessing the U.S. Racial Hierarchy Across Outcomes.
Race and social problems
Scholars have offered a range of perspectives on the twenty-first century racial landscape with little consensus about either the current state of the U.S. racial hierarchy or its future trajectory. We offer a more comprehensive assessment, using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) to study racial stratification across a number of socioeconomic outcomes. We pay particular attention to the robustness of results across different categorization schemes that account for self-identification and interviewer classification, as well as racial fluidity. Although we observe that White and Asian Americans generally have the best socioeconomic outcomes, on average, while Black Americans and American Indians have the worst, we also find meaningful differences in patterns of stratification both across outcomes and depending on how race is operationalized. These differences in stratification are reflected in the estimated number of strata as well as the rank order of racial categories. Our results suggest that ongoing debates about the nature of the U.S. racial hierarchy can be partly explained by methodological decisions about which outcomes to study and how best to measure race.Supplementary Information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s12552-021-09351-2.
View details for DOI 10.1007/s12552-021-09351-2
View details for PubMedID 35103079
Gender, Generation, and Multiracial Identification in the United States.
Multiracial self-identification is frequently portrayed as a disproportionately female tendency, but previous research has not probed the conditions under which this relationship might occur. Using the 2015 Pew Survey of Multiracial Adults, we offer a more comprehensive analysis that considers gender differences at two distinct stages: reporting multiple races in one's ancestry and selecting multiple races to describe oneself. We also examine self-identification patterns by the generational locus of multiracial ancestry. We find that females are more likely to be aware of multiracial ancestry overall, but only first-generation females are more likely than their male counterparts to self-identify as multiracial. Finally, we explore the role of racial ancestry combination, finding that multiracial awareness and self-identification are likely gendered differently for different segments of the mixed-race population. This offers a more nuanced picture of how gender interacts with other social processes to shape racial identification in the United States.
View details for DOI 10.1215/00703370-9334366
View details for PubMedID 34351407
Measuring Race and Ancestry in the Age of Genetic Testing.
Will the rise of genetic ancestry tests (GATs) change how Americans respond to questions about race and ancestry on censuses and surveys? To provide an answer, we draw on a unique study of more than 100,000 U.S. adults that inquired about respondents' race, ancestry, and genealogical knowledge. We find that people in our sample who have taken a GAT, compared with those who have not, are more likely to self-identify as multiracial and are particularly likely to select three or more races. This difference in multiple-race reporting stems from three factors: (1) people who identify as multiracial are more likely to take GATs; (2) GAT takers are more likely to report multiple regions of ancestral origin; and (3) GAT takers more frequently translate reported ancestral diversity into multiracial self-identification. Our results imply that Americans will select three or more races at higher rates in future demographic data collection, with marked increases in multiple-race reporting among middle-aged adults. We also present experimental evidence that asking questions about ancestry before racial identification moderates some of these GAT-linked reporting differences. Demographers should consider how the meaning of U.S. race data may be changing as more Americans are exposed to information from GATs.
View details for DOI 10.1215/00703370-9142013
View details for PubMedID 33843996
Gender and Health: Beyond Binary Categorical Measurement.
Journal of health and social behavior
This study leverages multiple measures of gender from a US national online survey (N = 1,508) to better assess how gender is related to self-rated health. In contrast to research linking feminine behaviors with good health and masculine behaviors with poor health, we find that masculinity is associated with better self-rated health for cisgender men, whereas femininity is associated with better self-rated health for cisgender women. The patterns are similar whether we consider self-identification or how people feel others perceive their gender, though reflected appraisals are most strongly associated with health for cisgender women. We also find that people who report they are seen as gender nonconforming report worse health, but only when this perception does not match their gender identification. Our results demonstrate that multiple measures of gender allow researchers to disentangle how health is not only shaped by gender enactments but also shapes perceptions of gender and gender difference.
View details for PubMedID 30698460
Consumer (dis-)interest in Genetic Ancestry Testing: The roles of race, immigration, and ancestral certainty.
New genetics and society
2019; 38 (2): 165-194
Genetic ancestry testing (GAT) is marketed as a way to make up for missing knowledge about one's ancestry. Previous research questions the GAT industry's ability to fulfill this promise in terms of the validity and reliability of test results. We instead explore the demand side of GAT, evaluating who is most and least likely to express interest in GAT. Using data from an original, nationwide survey of over 100,000 American adults, we find that GAT interest is related to both self-identified race and immigrant generation, with Asian Americans and first-generation immigrants expressing the least interest. Our quantitative and qualitative evidence suggests interest is further shaped by a pre-existing sense of ancestral certainty, leading some individuals to decline GAT, even if it were free. How interest and ancestral certainty are patterned has implications for who is included in - and thus for the conclusions that can be drawn from - genetic ancestry databases.
View details for DOI 10.1080/14636778.2018.1562327
View details for PubMedID 31814797
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6897494
Placing Racial Classification in Context.
Socius : sociological research for a dynamic world
This article extends previous research on place-based patterns of racial categorization by linking it to sociological theory that posits subnational variation in cultural schemas and applying regression techniques that allow for spatial variation in model estimates. We use data from a U.S. restricted-use geocoded longitudinal survey to predict racial classification as a function of both individual and county characteristics. We first estimate national average associations, then turn to spatial-regime models and geographically weighted regression to explore how these relationships vary across the country. We find that individual characteristics matter most for classification as "Black," while contextual characteristics are important predictors of classification as "White" or "Other," but some predictors also vary across space, as expected. These results affirm the importance of place in defining racial boundaries and suggest that U.S. racial schemas operate at different spatial scales, with some being national in scope while others are more locally situated.
View details for DOI 10.1177/2378023119851016
View details for PubMedID 31656853
- Making the Most of Multiple Measures: Disentangling the Effects of Different Dimensions of Race in Survey Research AMERICAN BEHAVIORAL SCIENTIST 2016; 60 (4): 519-537
Scaling Up: Representing Gender Diversity in Survey Research
View details for DOI 10.1177/2378023116664352
- New Categories Are Not Enough: Rethinking the Measurement of Sex and Gender in Social Surveys GENDER & SOCIETY 2015; 29 (4): 534-560
- Race, color, and income inequality across the Americas DEMOGRAPHIC RESEARCH 2014; 31: 735-756
A "Mulatto Escape Hatch" in the United States? Examining Evidence of Racial and Social Mobility During the Jim Crow Era
2013; 50 (5): 1921-1942
Racial distinctions in the United States have long been characterized as uniquely rigid and governed by strict rules of descent, particularly along the black-white boundary. This is often contrasted with countries, such as Brazil, that recognize "mixed" or intermediate racial categories and allow for more fluidity or ambiguity in racial classification. Recently released longitudinal data from the IPUMS Linked Representative Samples, and the brief inclusion of a "mulatto" category in the U.S. Census, allow us to subject this generally accepted wisdom to empirical test for the 1870-1920 period. We find substantial fluidity in black-mulatto classification between censuses-including notable "downward" racial mobility. Using person fixed-effects models, we also find evidence that among Southern men, the likelihood of being classified as mulatto was related to intercensal changes in occupational status. These findings have implications for studies of race and inequality in the United States, cross-national research on racial classification schemes in the Americas, and for how demographers collect and interpret racial data.
View details for DOI 10.1007/s13524-013-0210-8
View details for Web of Science ID 000325009400017
View details for PubMedID 23606347
- Racial Formation in Perspective: Connecting Individuals, Institutions, and Power Relations ANNUAL REVIEW OF SOCIOLOGY, VOL 39 2013; 39: 359-378
- Racial Fluidity and Inequality in the United States AMERICAN JOURNAL OF SOCIOLOGY 2012; 118 (3): 676-727
- Capturing complexity in the United States: which aspects of race matter and when? ETHNIC AND RACIAL STUDIES 2012; 35 (8): 1484-1502
Looking the Part: Social Status Cues Shape Race Perception
2011; 6 (9)
It is commonly believed that race is perceived through another's facial features, such as skin color. In the present research, we demonstrate that cues to social status that often surround a face systematically change the perception of its race. Participants categorized the race of faces that varied along White-Black morph continua and that were presented with high-status or low-status attire. Low-status attire increased the likelihood of categorization as Black, whereas high-status attire increased the likelihood of categorization as White; and this influence grew stronger as race became more ambiguous (Experiment 1). When faces with high-status attire were categorized as Black or faces with low-status attire were categorized as White, participants' hand movements nevertheless revealed a simultaneous attraction to select the other race-category response (stereotypically tied to the status cue) before arriving at a final categorization. Further, this attraction effect grew as race became more ambiguous (Experiment 2). Computational simulations then demonstrated that these effects may be accounted for by a neurally plausible person categorization system, in which contextual cues come to trigger stereotypes that in turn influence race perception. Together, the findings show how stereotypes interact with physical cues to shape person categorization, and suggest that social and contextual factors guide the perception of race.
View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0025107
View details for Web of Science ID 000295932100018
View details for PubMedID 21977227
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC3180382
Cause of Death Affects Racial Classification on Death Certificates
2011; 6 (1): e15812
View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0015812
How social status shapes race
PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
2008; 105 (50): 19628-19630
We show that racial perceptions are fluid; how individuals perceive their own race and how they are perceived by others depends in part on their social position. Using longitudinal data from a representative sample of Americans, we find that individuals who are unemployed, incarcerated, or impoverished are more likely to be seen and identify as black and less likely to be seen and identify as white, regardless of how they were classified or identified previously. This is consistent with the view that race is not a fixed individual attribute, but rather a changeable marker of status.
View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.0805762105
View details for Web of Science ID 000261802300013
View details for PubMedID 19064936
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC2604956
- Counting on Whiteness: Religion, race, ethnicity, and the politics of Jewish demography JOURNAL FOR THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF RELIGION 2022
Targeting Representation: Interpreting Calls for Diversity in Precision Medicine Research.
The Yale journal of biology and medicine
2022; 95 (3): 317-326
Scientists have identified a "diversity gap" in genetic samples and health data, which have been drawn predominantly from individuals of European ancestry, as posing an existential threat to the promise of precision medicine. Inadequate inclusion as articulated by scientists, policymakers, and ethicists has prompted large-scale initiatives aimed at recruiting populations historically underrepresented in biomedical research. Despite explicit calls to increase diversity, the meaning of diversity - which dimensions matter for what outcomes and why - remain strikingly imprecise. Drawing on our document review and qualitative data from observations and interviews of funders and research teams involved in five precision medicine research (PMR) projects, we note that calls for increasing diversity often focus on "representation" as the goal of recruitment. The language of representation is used flexibly to refer to two objectives: achieving sufficient genetic variation across populations and including historically disenfranchised groups in research. We argue that these dual understandings of representation are more than rhetorical slippage, but rather allow for the contemporary collection of samples and data from marginalized populations to stand in as correcting historical exclusion of social groups towards addressing health inequity. We trace the unresolved historical debates over how and to what extent researchers should procure diversity in PMR and how they contributed to ongoing uncertainty about what axes of diversity matter and why. We argue that ambiguity in the meaning of representation at the outset of a study contributes to a lack of clear conceptualization of diversity downstream throughout subsequent phases of the study.
View details for PubMedID 36187415
- Reflecting Race and Status: The Dynamics of Material Hardship and How People Are Perceived SOCIUS 2022; 8 (2)
Strategies of inclusion: The tradeoffs of pursuing "baked in" diversity through place-based recruitment.
Social science & medicine (1982)
2022; 306: 115132
US funding agencies have begun to institutionalize expectations that biomedical studies achieve defined thresholds for diversity among research participants, including in precision medicine research (PMR). In this paper, we examine how practices of recruitment have unfolded in the wake of these diversity mandates. We find that a very common approach to seeking diverse participants leverages understandings of spatial, geographic, and site diversity as proxies and access points for participant diversity. That is, PMR investigators recruit from a diverse sampling of geographic areas, neighborhoods, sites, and institutional settings as both opportunistic but also meaningful ways to "bake in" participant diversity. In this way, logics of geographic and institutional diversity shift the question from who to recruit, to where. However, despite seeing geographic and site diversity as social and scientific 'goods' in the abstract and as key to getting diverse participants, PMR teams told us that working with diverse sites was often difficult in practice due to constraints in funding, time, and personnel, and inadequate research infrastructures and capacity. Thus, the ways in which these geographic and institutional diversity strategies were implemented resulted ultimately in limiting the meaningful inclusion of populations and organizations that had not previously participated in biomedical research and reproduced the inclusion of institutions that are already represented. These prevailing assumptions about and practices of "baked-in" diversity in fact exacerbate and produce other forms of inequity, in research capacity and research representation. These findings underscore how structural inequities in research resources must be addressed for diversity to be achieved in both research sites and research participants.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.socscimed.2022.115132
View details for PubMedID 35728460
- Regimes beyond the One-Drop Rule: New Models of Multiracial Identity GENEALOGY 2022; 6 (2)
Beyond inclusion: Enacting team equity in precision medicine research.
2022; 17 (2): e0263750
PURPOSE: To identify meanings of and challenges to enacting equitable diversification of genomics research, and specifically precision medicine research (PMR), teams.METHODS: We conducted in-depth interviews with 102 individuals involved in three U.S.-based precision medicine research consortia and conducted over 400 observation hours of their working group meetings, consortium-wide meetings, and conference presentations. We also reviewed published reports on genomic workforce diversity (WFD), particularly those relevant to the PMR community.RESULTS: Our study finds that many PMR teams encounter challenges as they strive to achieve equitable diversification on scientific teams. Interviewees articulated that underrepresented team members were often hired to increase the study's capacity to recruit diverse research participants, but are limited to on-the-ground staff positions with little influence over study design. We find existing hierarchies and power structures in the academic research ecosystem compound challenges for equitable diversification.CONCLUSION: Our results suggest that meaningful diversification of PMR teams will only be possible when team equity is prioritized as a core value in academic research communities.
View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0263750
View details for PubMedID 35130331
- Dangerous data: Seeing social surveys through the sexuality prism SEXUALITIES 2021
- Ethics of inclusion: Cultivate trust in precision medicine. Science (New York, N.Y.) 2019; 364 (6444): 941–42
- The Generational Locus of Multiraciality and Its Implications for Racial Self-Identification ANNALS OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF POLITICAL AND SOCIAL SCIENCE 2018; 677 (1): 57–68
Still Searching for a True Race? Reply to Kramer et al. and Alba et al.
American Journal of Sociology
2016; 122 (1): 263-285
View details for DOI 10.1086/687806
Disentangling the Effects of Racial Self-identification and Classification by Others: The Case of Arrest
2015; 52 (3): 1017-1024
Scholars of race have stressed the importance of thinking about race as a multidimensional construct, yet research on racial inequality does not routinely take this multidimensionality into account. We draw on data from the U.S. National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to disentangle the effects of self-identifying as black and being classified by others as black on subsequently being arrested. Results reveal that the odds of arrest are nearly three times higher for people who were classified by others as black, even if they did not identify themselves as black. By contrast, we find no effect of self-identifying as black among people who were not seen by others as black. These results suggest that racial perceptions play an important role in racial disparities in arrest rates and provide a useful analytical approach for disentangling the effects of race on other outcomes.
View details for DOI 10.1007/s13524-015-0394-1
View details for Web of Science ID 000356041100014
View details for PubMedID 26012845
Race, Ethnicity and Ancestry in Unrelated Transplant Matching for the National Marrow Donor Program: A Comparison of Multiple Forms of Self-Identification with Genetics.
2015; 10 (8)
We conducted a nationwide study comparing self-identification to genetic ancestry classifications in a large cohort (n = 1752) from the National Marrow Donor Program. We sought to determine how various measures of self-identification intersect with genetic ancestry, with the aim of improving matching algorithms for unrelated bone marrow transplant. Multiple dimensions of self-identification, including race/ethnicity and geographic ancestry were compared to classifications based on ancestry informative markers (AIMs), and the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes, which are required for transplant matching. Nearly 20% of responses were inconsistent between reporting race/ethnicity versus geographic ancestry. Despite strong concordance between AIMs and HLA, no measure of self-identification shows complete correspondence with genetic ancestry. In certain cases geographic ancestry reporting matches genetic ancestry not reflected in race/ethnicity identification, but in other cases geographic ancestries show little correspondence to genetic measures, with important differences by gender. However, when respondents assign ancestry to grandparents, we observe sub-groups of individuals with well- defined genetic ancestries, including important differences in HLA frequencies, with implications for transplant matching. While we advocate for tailored questioning to improve accuracy of ancestry ascertainment, collection of donor grandparents' information will improve the chances of finding matches for many patients, particularly for mixed-ancestry individuals.
View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0135960
View details for PubMedID 26287376
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4545604
- Beyond the Looking Glass: Exploring Fluidity in Racial Self-Identification and Interviewer Classification SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES 2014; 57 (2): 186-207
- The Criminal Justice System and the Racialization of Perceptions ANNALS OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF POLITICAL AND SOCIAL SCIENCE 2014; 651 (1): 104-121
- The Dynamics of Racial Fluidity and Inequality in the United States Social Stratification: Class, Race, and Gender in Sociological Perspective edited by Grusky, D. Westview Press. 2014; 4th
- ENGENDERING RACIAL PERCEPTIONS: An Intersectional Analysis of How Social Status Shapes Race GENDER & SOCIETY 2013; 27 (3): 319-344
When white people report racial discrimination: The role of region, religion, and politics
SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH
2013; 42 (3): 742-754
Scholarly interest in the correlates and consequences of perceived discrimination has grown exponentially in recent years, yet, despite increased legal and media attention to claims of "anti-white bias," empirical studies predicting reports of racial discrimination by white Americans remain limited. Using data from the 2006 Portraits of American Life Study, we find that evangelical Protestantism increases the odds that whites will report experiencing racial discrimination, even after controlling for racial context and an array of social and psychological characteristics. However, this effect is limited to the South. Outside the South, political affiliation trumps religion, yielding distinct regional profiles of discrimination reporters. These findings suggest that institutions may function as regional "carriers" for whites inclined to report racial discrimination.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.12.007
View details for Web of Science ID 000317318600012
View details for PubMedID 23521992
- Representing the Multidimensionality of Race in Survey Research Mapping ‘Race’: Critical Approaches to Health Disparities Research edited by Gomez, L. E., Lopez, N. Rutgers University Press. 2013
- The Race of a Criminal Record: How Incarceration Colors Racial Perceptions SOCIAL PROBLEMS 2010; 57 (1): 92-113
- Different Measures, Different Mechanisms: A New Perspective on Racial Disparities in Health Care Research in the Sociology of Health Care 2009; 27: 21-45
- (Re)Modeling Race: Moving From Intrinsic Characteristic to Multidimensional Marker of Status Racism in Post-Race America: New Theories, New Directions edited by Gallagher, C. Social Forces Publishing. 2008: 335–50
Double-checking the race box: Examining inconsistency between survey measures of observed and self-reported race
Annual Meeting of the Population-Association-of-America
OXFORD UNIV PRESS INC. 2006: 57–74
View details for Web of Science ID 000243493900003
- Where Americans Came From: Race, Immigration and Ancestry Century of Difference: How America Changed in the Last One Hundred Years edited by Fischer, C. S., Hout, M. Russell Sage. 2006: 23–56