Measuring racial essentialism in the genomic era: The genetic essentialism scale for race (GESR)

  • Şule YaylacıEmail author
  • Wendy D. Roth
  • Kaitlyn Jaffe


Racial essentialism is the belief that races are biologically distinct groups with defining core “essences,” a notion associated with increased social distance and racial bias. While there are different kinds of racial essentialism, understanding and measuring genetic essentialism – the belief that racial groups and their defining core essences are determined by genes – is increasingly important in the wake of the Human Genome Project and the genomic revolution that it spurred. Many have questioned whether such genomic advances will reinforce genetic essentialist beliefs about race, but scholarly research is limited by measures that do not specify the role of genes in these beliefs or allow for distinct theoretical sub-components. In this paper, we develop and validate the Genetic Essentialism Scale for Race (GESR) using a sequential transformative mixed methods approach. Data for analysis come from an original survey-based study with a sample of 1069 White native-born Americans. We employ both exploratory factor analysis and confirmatory analysis to derive and confirm a three-factor model of genetic essentialism (category determinism, core determinism, and polygenism). Due to the high correlation between these factors, we also test for a second-order measurement model with three first-order factors. After conducting additional reliability, validity, and construct validity testing, we propose the GESR— a second-order construct with three first-order dimensions— as a reliable measure of genetic essentialism. The GESR will allow researchers to determine the impact of new genetic developments like race-based medicines and genetic ancestry testing on genetic essentialist beliefs about race.


Genetic essentialism Racial essentialism Scale Race Racial conceptualization Second-order factor model 



The authors would like to thank Qiang Fu, Steven Heine, Catherine Lee, Ann Morning, Nathan Roberson, Brian O’Connor, and Charmaine Royal. This research was funded by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (#435-2014-0467), the Canada Foundation for Innovation (#23744), and the UBC Killam Faculty Research Fellowship.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

12144_2019_311_MOESM1_ESM.docx (407 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 407 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.Institute for European StudiesUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  3. 3.Department of SociologyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUnited States

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