Thursday, March 03, 2011

Larger than life: Minorities in America

In 2000, the GSS quizzed respondents on the racial composition of the US, asking them what percentages of the population were white, black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American. The survey did not specify whites or blacks as being non-Hispanic, though in the vernacular, "white" insinuates "non-Hispanic white" and "black" insinuates "non-Hispanic black" unless otherwise specified, so it's pretty to safe to assume that the majority of respondents (especially non-Hispanics!), were implicitly operating under the assumption that Hispanic is an exclusive racial classification.

The following table shows the average estimate among all respondents. Because total estimates exceed 100%*, the third column adjusts for this and displays results as if each racial category is mutually exclusive and capture the population in its entirety. The fourth column shows the actual percentages of each group as recorded by the 2000 US Census. Finally, the fifth column shows to what extent a group's size is over(under)estimated:

Race
Raw
Adj
Actual
Diff
White
59.0%
40.2%
69.1%
(28.2)
Black
31.3%
21.3%
12.1%
9.2
Hispanic
24.6%
16.8%
12.5%
4.3
Asian
17.7%
12.1%
3.6%
8.5
Native American
14.2%
9.7%
0.7%
9.0

It probably comes as little surprise to find that the white share of the population is underestimated, while the shares of the four non-white groups was overestimated. The same general tendency applies to the popular media depictions of American demography, after all.

Steve Sailer has noted on multiple occasions that in the media's conception of race-related issues, there are three categories: White, black, and other. By the turn of the century, though, Hispanics had already displaced blacks as the largest non-white group in the US.

At first blush, the (non-Hispanic) public's conception seemed to mirror the that of the media. It appears a bit more nuanced than that, however. Asians and Native Americans are both extremely overstated (by factors of 5 and 20, respectively) in the public mind, suggesting that the general notion is of minority groups making up somewhere between one-tenth and one-fifth of the population a piece without much differentiation between their sizes, except in the case of blacks, who comprise the nation's head minority group.

This is not merely a function of non-whites overestimating the size of their respective groups, either. At best, that marginally skews the numbers towards the white share being understated and the non-white shares being overstated. The next table shows the same, but only non-Hispanic white respondents are included:

Race
Raw
Adj
Actual
Diff
White
59.1%
41.4%
69.1%
(27.7)
Black
30.1%
21.1%
12.1%
9.0
Hispanic
23.6%
16.5%
12.5%
4.0
Asian
16.7%
11.7%
3.6%
8.0
Native American
13.4%
9.4%
0.7%
8.7

Not much variance. Despite often being portrayed as clueless dolts, the American public is actually quite progressive in its assumptions! These dreams shall come!

Parenthetically, the question is, interestingly, also asked with regards to size of the US' Jewish population. The average estimate, at 17.7%, is nearly an order of magnitude larger than is actually the case, although that estimate would probably come in too low as a relative measure of Jewish influence on American popular media!

GSS variables used: RACECEN1, USBLK, USWHT, USHISP, USASN, USAMIND, USJEWS

* Likely for a variety of reasons: Responses were given all at once, but as individual answers to individual questions, so it would not have been natural for people to ensure the totals added up to exactly 100%; there were surely some people (especially Hispanics) who considered many Hispanics to also be white, and some to also be black; similarly, there were respondents who took multiracial people into account and presumably double-counted them; presuming a group is more diminutive than is actually the case is vaguely considered to be insulting, so better to error on the high end than on the low side.

8 comments:

OneSTDV said...

Extremely interesting. This is actually something that gets talked about a lot. Good to see actual data on the subject.

And none of the results, for Jews and blacks especially, are surprising.

Razib said...

this is an old and robust finding. u see the same pattern in 1970s survey data. i think the media concentration in a few cities is a big reason.

Udolpho.com said...

No, the reason behind this would be the force-feeding of multiculturalism by the media, which insists that every television show look impossibly "diverse". This is what distorts the average American's view of the country's ethnic makeup, and don't kid yourself, this is done on purpose by the usual suspects.

Sgt. Joe Friday said...

"...and don't kid yourself, this is done on purpose by the usual suspects."

Oh, you mean to propagandize the public and lead them to the conclusion that we're going to do what no other soceity in history has ever pulled off: a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual democracy, with competing religions all praying to their version of "God" - or no God at all - where everyone gets along, there are no ethnic squabbles, and no poor people or crime?

I think there was a guy once who wrote a song about something like this called "Imagine," which many took to be a sort of anthem for what could be. Why in the world people would think that a neurotic, drug-addled art school dropout would have any special insight to offer puzzles me.

Audacious Epigone said...

Razib,

As an incidental result of the demographic composition of those cities (ie NYC and LA), or, as asserted below (more plausibly imo), a persistent and intentional misrepresentation to foster more acceptance of the 'inevitable' demographic future that is portrayed as having already arrived?

Stopped Clock said...

I'm getting a bit of deja vu here and I think I posted this a long time ago, but:

I went to high school in a heavily Jewish area and the teacher once asked us what we thought the percentage of Jews in the US was. The class, as a whole, came up with an estimate of 25%. It seemed believable to me, too. We were quite surprised to learn it was only 3%. Meanwhile at the same time we guessed that the US was about 60% white. That meant that we thought almost half of the white population was Jewish!

Later, when I got older, I figured that it was just because we were in a heavily Jewish town that we thought like that. I guess we weren't so odd after all.

CJ said...

Canadian here who spent some years in the U.S. When I travelled to Europe in the 1970s I discovered that many Europeans believed that the U.S. population was 30-50% black. I was aware at the time that the black fraction of the population was actually about one-eighth (which it still is BTW ... the percentage has remained quite constant). When I told people that only one American in eight was black, and that many states were almost entirely white, they generally refused to believe me. I got the impression that their ideas on the subject came largely from television, music and sports (particularly the track and field portion of the Olympics). In the 1970s advertising had nowhere near the number of black people displayed that it does now.

Silver said...

When I travelled to Europe in the 1970s I discovered that many Europeans believed that the U.S. population was 30-50% black.

I've heard the same thing in Australia.

AudaciousE, I wonder if the heterogeneous nature of the "white" population doesn't have something to do with white underestimates of it. American founding stock whites are still the majority of all whites and sufficiently different from other whites (particularly southern and eastern europeans) that it's possible they (particularly the elderly) don't consider these people "the same race" in their minds. Also, founding stock whites may also be confusing continental, non-germanic Europeans with Jews, thus overestimating their number, too. Probably a minor effect on both counts, but still something to consider.