A Better Way to Ask Race and Ethnicity (and Proof That It Works)
When the U.S. Census Bureau started redesigning its race and ethnicity question for the 2020 decennial census, we started revising our own short version for surveys, too. Now we have enough data from one full years-worth of surveying on multiple projects, and we can tell you this: it works really well.
We used to have a good number of survey respondents complaining they did not fit (or like) the race or ethnicity options given. They would select “other” and fill in the box with free-text entries like “I’m European Caucasian” or “Hispanic” or “I’m an American.” Our new question has cut the number of confused or complaining respondents by 80%. That saves us a lot of work reading and re-categorizing open-ends. It also saves our respondents the discomfort (and sometimes anger) of a question about race that does not fit with current thinking and cultural sensitivities.
In case you missed it from our newsletter last year, here’s the current version we use and recommend:
Note that the response options are in alphabetical order, except for the last two lines. Each one has an “or” linking two terms, giving equal linguistic weight to all options. We also typically include an other-specify box for those selecting the last row, but few people use the “other” category.
This new question doesn’t offend or confuse people. And then with just a little bit of simple analysis and coding work, it easily maps onto current and future Census data:
We published our article, “How to Ask Race & Ethnicity on a Survey” just over one year ago, and it now gets more readers and views than any other page on this website (roughly 200 page views every day). To all of you who are reading this updated article now: Thank you for joining us for ongoing insights, ideas, and thought leadership. If you have not yet done so, subscribe to our newsletter for a quarterly update with lots of new content.
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