To Ask or Not to Ask: Surveying Race – By Not Asking About Race

Race, origin, ethnicity…what’s the difference? Focus group research has shown that people think the words mean the same thing. One problem with asking about race is that many people don’t know what it means. To combat this, the Census Bureau is experimenting with alternate approaches to garner this information, including not asking about race at all (so to speak). Instead, people will be asked about the “category” that describes them. The goal is to make questions more clear and easy to answer, encouraging greater response.

Up until recently, race has been seen as a set of fixed physical characteristics. Now it is more commonly viewed as having many influences rather than quantifiable values. The hope is that by referring to categories, people will get less absorbed by the terminology.

This would be yet another in a long list of revisions in the way information regarding race has been collected over the years.

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