How common is perceived discrimination? Who reports/suffers it?

Brian Boutwell et al has a new preprint out:

The Experience of Discrimination in Contemporary America: Results from a Nationally Representative Sample of Adults

A large body of social science research is devoted to understanding the causes and correlates of discrimination. However, 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, on average, was relatively rare in the sample—across racial and ethnic categories.

The method is so simple that it’s a little surprising no one else didn’t do a lot of these before:

  1. Choose a large, preferably nationally representative sample.
  2. Look for some kind of perceived discrimination of bad treatment variable. Preferably broken down by perceived or suspected reason for the behavior.
  3. Report simply summary statistics by SIRE and sex (SIRE = self-identified race/ethnicity).
  4. Plot results.

So, they found this:

If we are to believe the left-wing media etc. we would think that discrimination based on sex and race and whatever are rampant, as part of the whole patriarchal structural racism White man privilege deal. Instead, what we find is that:

  • There are only fairly small differences in the perceived discrimination across SIRE groups. Of primary interest to many is the Black White gap, which for “often” is 5.4% vs. 4.1%, and for “never” it is 29.8% vs. 30.4%. I.e. hardly much to worry about.
  • When people do report discrimination, it is mostly not related to sex or race, including for Blacks. Curiously, the largest category is the remainder category of Other.

Something that’s not race, sex, age, religion, height/weight, sexual orientation, education/income, or a physical disability. What might the mystery reasons be? I can think of some contenders:

  • Politics. Given that many surveys have people admitting they will and do discriminate against political opponents, this is an obvious candidate. Political stereotypes are reported to be fair inaccurate, generally exaggerated, and this seems congruent with it being a plausible discrimination target.
  • Attractiveness, per the halo effects literature (altho they may just reflect correlated traits).
  • Music and film tastes.
  • Clothing style.
  • Hair style or lack of.
  • Sexual success or lack thereof.
  • That you’re just a mean jerk and others respond in kind — perceiver traits, not others’ wrongdoing.

Brian tells me that they in fact looking into the last option for their next publication, so stay tuned.

I have a few complaints:

  1. They did not break down their table by sex. This is especially problematic when one has to interpret the sex reason.
  2. They used a single dataset. This is a pretty simple design, so they could have downloaded some other large scale datasets — NLSY (3x), ANES, GSS — and replicated if they have suitable variables. This would make it a stronger study.
  3. They don’t report effect sizes in the abstract. This is critical to do!
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