ELSIcon2022 • Paper • May 27, 2022
Şule Yaylacı, Wendy Roth
An estimated 15% of all U.S. adults have taken genetic ancestry tests (GATs). Recent studies have found that many test-takers change their ethnic and racial identities based on the test results, viewing them through social lenses rather than always deferring to genetic information. Yet these studies have several limitations; most suffer from self-selection bias and fail to consider the counterfactual or account for the ancestry percentages reported in admixture tests. Using the first randomized controlled trial of GATs, we analyze their causal impact on identity change. Analyzing 802 native-born White Americans, we address how much identity change can be attributed to GATs and evaluate the independent and interactional effects of people’s identity aspirations and their reported ancestry percentages. We find very low rates of racial identity change, and relatively small amounts of ethnic identity change beyond that experienced by non-test-takers. We find support for identity aspirations as a change mechanism but its impact is bounded to lower or moderate ranges of reported ancestry percentages. GATs reinforce notions of ethnic identity as genetic at higher ancestry ranges, while leaving room for social considerations within a limited scope.