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America's largest multiracial group doesn't think of itself that way


People who have both white and Native American heritage make up America's biggest multiracial group. But they're the least likely to embrace the label.

This is one of the findings of a Pew Research Center study that took an incredibly detailed look at the lives of multiracial Americans. Pew did something unique to get this data: instead of studying only the people who checked off the "multiracial" box on the census, it looked at all the people who have reported having parents and grandparents of different racial backgrounds — a much bigger group.

When parents and grandparents are taken into consideration, multiracial adults currently make up 6.9 percent of the adult American population, compared with the 2.1 percent that check the multiracial box on the census.

(Pew Research Center)

(Pew Research Center)

A full 50 percent of these people are white and Native American, far outnumbering all of the other 16 possible combinations of racial groups in Pew's study. (Black and American Indian adults make up 12 percent of the multiracial population, for example, while those with a white and black background make up 11 percent.)

(Pew Research Center)

But the most intriguing thing about this enormous group of Americans is that they're less likely than any other multiracial group to consider themselves multiracial. Only 25 percent choose this label for themselves, compared with 61 percent of people who have black and white parents or grandparents and a full 70 percent of people whose heritage is white and Asian.

The uneven results are a reminder of the often subjective nature of racial identity (the limits of which were recently tested by Rachel Dolezal, the former Spokane, Washington, NAACP official accused by her own parents of passing for black).

There are no rules to guide who should check the "multiracial" box and who should not. But the findings did offer a partial explanation for the reluctance of white and American Indian biracial people to do so: they often said ties to their Native American heritage were faint. Twenty-two percent of this group said they had a lot in common with people in the US who are American Indian, whereas 61 percent said they had a lot in common with whites.

Hand in hand with their white-leaning identities came political leanings that differ from those of other multiracial groups. Pew found that this population tended to be much more Republican-leaning and conservative than the rest of the multiracial population:

(Pew Research Center)

(Pew Research Center)

In data that offers a hint about the country's demographic future, researchers found that the majority of mixed-race babies born in 2013 were either white and black (36 percent) or white and Asian (24 percent). So the largest multiracial group in America might not be the largest for long — but of course, many of them wouldn't have described themselves that way in the first place.

Watch: The myth of race, debunked in 3 minutes