populations may not correspond to the broad racial and ethnic categories stipulated by the federal government. It should be noted, however, that the OMB standards establish minimal racial and ethnic categories and therefore do not prohibit the use of more detailed categories.


Each state issues birth and death certificates as part of the country’s vital statistics system. These data provide states with information that can be used to assess and improve the health of the population. For example, states use vital statistics for prenatal care interventions and infant mortality reduction. Information for birth certificates is recorded at the birth of an infant by a health care professional, and information for death certificates is usually collected by a funeral home director. It is believed that these two record systems are essentially complete in their coverage of births and deaths in the United States (see U.S. DHHS, 1997).

All states and territories provide these core data to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) under the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program (VSCP). The program (and its predecessors) was implemented to record national vital statistics and to encourage comparable reporting of these events across states and U.S. territories. Standards for the reporting of minimum basic data items were developed (and continue to be reassessed) by NCHS working with state vital statistics organizations. States are funded to provide the standardized data to NCHS, with each state’s federal funding level based on its reporting of these minimum basic data.

Standards for reporting racial and ethnic data are included as are standards for reporting the education levels of the parents (on birth certificates) or of the decedent (on death certificates). For birth certificates, the race and ethnicity of the infant are not reported; rather, the race and ethnicity of the infant’s mother and father (if known) are reported. The education levels of both parents are recorded in the same manner, as are their countries of origin. The form is filled out by a medical records clerk, who is supposed to ask the parents for this information. In the case of death registrations, the race and ethnicity and education level of the deceased are usually recorded by the funeral home director or a health care worker who requests the information from either the decedent’s next of kin or a family representative while filling out the forms. No data are collected on the decedent’s country of origin or language.

The racial and ethnic categories currently used in the vital statistics system were reviewed as part of the regular vital statistics standard certificate review process (NCHS, 2000). This review resulted in a recommendation for expanded racial and ethnic categories that would include separate Asian categories (Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Viet-

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