Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Gary Miron

Second Advisor

Dr. D. Eric Archer

Third Advisor

Dr. June Gothberg


social-construct, race and ethnicity, self-identity, DNA testing, demographic construct


Self-identity—specific to race and ethnicity—is shaped by a myriad of factors, including genealogical evidence, family lore, learned behaviors and lived experiences. How these various factors affect self-identity varies greatly from individual to individual. Even those raised within the same household may hold different views of who they are. This study examines how individuals’ self-identity is affected by results from DNA testing.

This study is filtered through the lens of Social Constructivism theory and looks at many components which may have impacted how we see ourselves and develop our personal self-identification. The study used mixed methods and sources of data. Quantitative and qualitative data was gathered from a survey of 692 persons, and from 25 in-depth interviews of individuals who reported changes in self-identity after DNA testing. An extensive literature review was conducted that examines the process of immigration into the United States and the purpose of implementing the U.S. Census, along with changes and trends it intended to capture. Other topics addressed in the review of literature include: How social fluidity and the transient actions within the U.S. impacted the identity of races, ethnicities, and biracial individuals; and the influences through subjectivity, social class, stratification, hierarchy, and discriminatory actions influence self-identity. The review of literature informed the development of the conceptual framework.

The new topic of DNA is being added to Social Identity Theory (SIT) and Self- Categorization Theory (SCT) to observe how individuals now interpret their self-identity of race and ethnicity after interpreting DNA results. With this new information, clarification was obtained on what has happened to the construct of race and ethnicity.

Key findings include the following: (1) There appears to be considerable confusion about the constructs of race and ethnicity among participants even prior to taking the DNA tests. (2) Thirty-seven percent of the participants reported shifts in the way they interpret their self-identification after taking the DNA test. (3) Women between ages 18-44 and 55- 65 are more likely to have reported changes in self-identity after the DNA testing. (4) Women under 54 years of age are more likely to change their reporting of race. (5) Individuals under 54 are more likely to change their reporting of ethnicity. (6) Men are over two times less likely to accurately know their race prior to a DNA test. (7) The constructs of race and ethnicity are becoming increasingly confounded and are likely to be less useful as predictor variables in social science research.

This study is laying the groundwork for how DNA results will impact the earlier theories of SIT and SCT and the self-identity of our population in the U.S. as well as in other countries. The conceptual framework and methods used are likely to inform further research into this relatively new and growing topic of inquiry. Inexpensive DNA tests are available with over 15-million tests performed; how these results impact the views of self-identity is important for longitudinal investigation into these changing constructs.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access