Thursday, August 3, 2017

Frequent discrimination is negligible

Hmmmm. From The Experience of Discrimination in Contemporary America: Results from a Nationally Representative Sample of Adults by Brian Boutwell. From the abstract:
A large body of social science research is devoted to understanding the causes and correlates of discrimination. Comparatively less effort has been aimed at providing a general prevalence estimate of discrimination using a nationally representative sample. The current study is intended to offer such an estimate using a large sample of American respondents (n = 14,793) while also exploring perceptions regarding why respondents felt they were discriminated against.The results provide a broad estimate of self-reported discrimination experiences—an event that was only reported by about one-quarter of all sample members—across racial and ethnic categories.
That's a good sized sample.

I am very skeptical of those who claim the US is systematically racist. It is a nonsense claim. It is a claim whose validity exists only in the faith-based conviction of the claimants and not grounded in empiricism.

That said, of course there are instances here and there. But how much and how prevalent and how consequential? Academies are temples of postmodernist zeal and empirical research for data about a central pillar of belief is obviously not especially welcome. But such research does pop up now and then. I just came across this research from February. I am quite surprised it has not received more, or, really, any attention.

It is broadly consistent with the numbers I have seen in other research. This data is derived from an on-going longitudinal study of a large population of people (nearly fifteen thousand) from their school years in 1994 to the most recent wave of interviews in 2009. It is a study with very high retention rates.

The participants were asked in the most recent wave of interviews, two related questions 1 - In your day to day life, how often do you feel you have been treated with less respect or courtesy than other people? and 2 - What do you think was the main reason for these experiences?

The results are very interesting.

The great majority (~75%) of Americans, across all races, report rarely or never experiencing discrimination. The range of those experiencing discrimination is, to me, a surprisingly narrow ranging from a low of 19% of Asians sometimes or often experiencing discrimination to a high of 32% of African Americans experiencing discrimination sometimes or often. Whites come in at 24% sometimes or often experiencing discrimination.

Click to enlarge.

The follow-on question is with regard to the source or nature of the discrimination being felt. The survey provided eight categories of discrimination plus a generic "Other". The specified categories are all the usual suspects: race, gender, religion, gender, height/weight, orientation, education/income, physical disability.

For all groups together, discrimination was based on other factors 59% of the time. Woof! What on earth could be in "other" that is generating so much discrimination? My guess might be "class" or "occupation" maybe "behavior". But really, it is kind of hard to know and might realistically be a large number of very small causes.

Click to enlarge.

Of the 24% of Whites who indicate they have experienced discrimination, for only 4% of them is it racial discrimination. Ignoring "other", the most common source of discrimination against Whites is education/income and then age (both at about 8%). Gender and orientation together were the source of discrimination for only less than 6% of the 24%. As might be expected, for African Americans, of those experiencing self-reported discrimination, 25% of that discrimination is based on race. The next most common source is, as with whites, education/income (at 9%).

The heartening message is that for most Americans, discrimination is perceived as relatively uncommon (only 25% having experienced it sometimes or often). Indeed, among all racial groups, only 4% report frequent discrimination.

I think it is also heartening that for those experiencing any discrimination, the great bulk (59%) of that discrimination is for reasons other than the commonly identified factors. Presumably those other reasons are multitudinous, possibly relating to class and behavior, but who knows?

For the traditional sources of discrimination, the percentages are pretty low. Race is the source of discrimination only 10% of the time, Gender (5%), Age (8%), Religion (1%), Height/weight (5%), Sexual orientation (<0.4%), Education/Income (9%), Physical Disability (3%).

Another way of putting this is that only 0.4% of Americans experience frequent racial discrimination, 0.2% experience frequent gender discrimination, 0.3% age discrimination, 0.04% religious discrimination, 0.02% orientation discrimination, 0.4% education/income discrimination, 0.14% disability discrimination, and 0.24% suffer height/weight frequent discrimination.

That sounds much more like the civilized America I experience versus the world of rampant exclusion, bias, discrimination, and micro-aggression reported in the news.

The usual disclaimers: any bigotry is too much but it is nice to have a handle on the actual extent of such bigotry.

Not much discrimination and not for the usual reasons. If the numbers hold up, that calls into question an awful lot of political conversations and policy proposals.

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