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Questionnaire Effects on Measurements of Race and Hispanic Origin

Nancy Bates, Elizabeth A. Martin, Theresa J. DeMaio, and Manuel de la Puente

KEY WORDS: questionnaire design, split-sample experiments, decennial census, question order effects, self-administered questionnaires, race classifications


Although race may be regarded as a straightforward and objective characteristic, the accurate measurement of race and ethnicity for the U.S. population poses difficult challenges. Popular racial classifications vary according to immigration patterns, societal changes, and political forces. The result is a complex concept subject to many interpretations.

This article analyzes and summarizes Census Bureau research results on the decennial census race and ethnicity questions from qualitative and experimental studies conducted between 1987 and 1993. The article analyzes multiple replications of an experiment conducted to determine effects of question order on item nonresponse and reporting of race and origin. In most of the experiments, placing Spanish origin prior to race successfully reduced nonresponse to Spanish origin while increasing nonresponse to race only slightly, if at all. The effects of reordering questions on race reporting among Hispanics are also examined, including an exploration of interactions with detailed Hispanic origin, place of birth, and language. Results from in-depth interviews and focus groups with Hispanic respondents are used to supplement the findings from the questionnaire design experiments.

CITATION: Nancy Bates, Elizabeth A. Martin, Theresa J. DeMaio, and Manuel de la Puente, (1995) “Questionnaire Effects on Measurements of Race and Spanish Origin,” Journal of Official Statistics 11(4):453-459

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Research Division

Created: December 21, 2006
Last revised: December 21, 2006

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Statistical Research Division | (301) 763-3215 (or |   Last Revised: October 08, 2010