A Myth About Social Security Numbers

Group Numbers

Apparently due to the fact that the middle digits of the SSN are referred to as the "group number," some people have misconstrued this to mean that the "group number" refers to racial groupings. So a myth goes around from time-to-time that encoded in a person's SSN is a key to their race. This simply is not true.

As should be clear from the explanation of the SSN numbering scheme, the "group number" refers only to the numerical groups 01-99. For filing purposes, the "area numbers" are broken down into these numerical subgroups. So, for example, for area numbers starting with 527 there would be 99 subgroups, one for every number starting with 527-01, and one for every number starting with 527-02, and so on. This was done back in 1936 because in that era there were no computers and all the records were stored in filing cabinets. The early program administrators needed some way to organize the filing cabinets into sub-groups, to make them more manageable, and this is the scheme they came up with.

So the "group number" has nothing whatever to do with race.

(See detailed explanation of the numbering scheme.)

Footnote: It is true that the application form for an SSN asks for identfying information, such as date of birth, place of birth, parents' names, and (optionally) the applicant's race. But none of this identifying information is encoded in the SSN itself--not the person's date of birth, place of birth, or race.

(To see a copy of the current SSN application form and the questions it asks, see our main Web site.)