Genes, Race, and Causation: US Public Perspectives About Racial Difference


© 2018, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature. Concerns have been raised that the increase in popular interest in genetics may herald a new era within which racial inequities are seen as “natural” or immutable. In the following study, we provide data from a nationally representative survey on how the US population perceives general ability, athleticism, and intellect being determined by race and/or genetics and whether they believe racial health inequities to be primarily the product of genetic or social factors. We find that self-described race is of primary importance in attributing general ability to race, increasing age is a significant factor in attributing athleticism and intellect to genes and race, and education is a significant factor in decreasing such racially and genetically deterministic views. Beliefs about the meaning of race are statistically significantly associated with respect to the perception of athletic abilities and marginally associated with the perception of racial health inequalities being either socially or genetically derived. Race, education, socioeconomic status, and concepts of race were frequently found to be multiplicative in their statistical effects. The persistent acceptance of a genetically and racially deterministic view of athleticism among the White and older population group is discussed with respect to its social impact, as is the high level of agreement that general abilities are determined by race among non-White respondents and those of lower socioeconomic status. We argue that these findings highlight that both biological and non-biological forms of understanding race continue to play a role into the politics of race and social difference within contemporary US society.





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Publication Info

Outram, Simon, Joseph L Graves, Jill Powell, Chantelle Wolpert, Kerry L Haynie, Morris W Foster, Jessica W Blanchard, Anna Hoffmeyer, et al. (2018). Genes, Race, and Causation: US Public Perspectives About Racial Difference. Race and Social Problems, 10(2). pp. 79–90. 10.1007/s12552-018-9223-7 Retrieved from

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Kerry L. Haynie

Professor of Political Science

Kerry L. Haynie is Professor and Chair of Political Science, Professor of African and African American Studies, and a former Chair of Duke’s Academic Council (Faculty Senate), 2019-21. He earned B.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Master’s degree from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. Before coming to Duke in 2003, Haynie was a member of the faculty at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and the University of Pennsylvania.    

Haynie’s research examines how the underlying theory, structures, and practices of American political institutions affect African Americans’ and women’s efforts to organize and exert influence on the political system. In 2012, he and his co-author Beth Reingold were the co-winners of the American Political Science Association’s Women and Politics Research Section’s Best Paper Award. In addition to articles in various academic journals, his publications include, Race, Gender, and Legislative Representation: Toward a More Intersectional Approach (with Beth Reingold and Kirsten Widner, Oxford University Press) winner of the 2021 Richard F. Fenno, Jr. Prize from the American Political Science Association for the best book in legislative studies.


Charmaine DM Royal

Robert O. Keohane Professor of African & African American Studies

Charmaine Royal is the Robert O. Keohane Professor of African & African American Studies, Biology, Global Health, and Family Medicine & Community Health at Duke University. She directs the Duke Center on Genomics, Race, Identity, Difference and the Duke Center for Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation.

Dr. Royal’s research, scholarship, and teaching focus on ethical, social, scientific, and clinical implications of human genetics and genomics, with an emphasis on issues at the intersection of genetics and race. Her interests and primary areas of work include genetics and genomics in African and African Diaspora populations; sickle cell disease and trait; public and professional perspectives and practices regarding race, ethnicity, and ancestry; genetic ancestry inference; and genotype-environment interplay. A fundamental aim of her work is to dismantle ideologies and systems of racial hierarchy in science, healthcare, and society. She serves on numerous national and international advisory boards and committees for government agencies, professional organizations, research initiatives, not-for-profit entities, and corporations.

Dr. Royal obtained a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, master’s degree in genetic counseling, and doctorate in human genetics from Howard University. She completed postgraduate training in ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) research and bioethics at the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health, and in epidemiology and behavioral medicine at Howard University Cancer Center.

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