Study Suggests Discrimination May Not Be ‘Prevalent’ Part Of US Life


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Amber Randall Civil Rights Reporter
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An August study found that discrimination may not play as large a role in a person’s everyday life as previously thought.

Brian Boutwell, a criminology professor at St. Louis University, and other criminology and psychology professors surveyed a nationally representative sample of 14,793 people and asked them to answer how often they faced discrimination in their daily lives and to what degree. Only 25 percent of participants said they experienced discrimination, while 75 percent said they either had not experienced it or experienced discrimination rarely.

“Our results indicate that the majority of the sample reported either no experience with discrimination or that it had happened only rarely. Moreover, of those reporting having experienced discrimination, the majority suggested that unique and perhaps situationally specific factors other than race, gender, sexual orientation, and age were the cause(s) of discrimination,” the researchers noted in the study.

Researchers used two methods to measure discrimination: in the first method, they asked respondents “in your day to day life, how often do you feel you have been treated with less respect or courtesy than other people?” and told them to rate it on a scale of 0-3, with 0 representing “never,” 1 representing “rarely,” 2 representing “sometimes,” and 3 meaning “often.” Respondents were then asked the same question again, but told to rate it on a scale of 0-1, with one meaning “never/rarely,” and 2 meaning “sometimes/often.”

Overall, about 32 percent of the black respondents said they had faced discrimination, while 68 percent said they hadn’t. A breakdown of black respondents’ data reveals only about 6 percent said it happened often, while about 26 percent said discrimination happened sometimes. The other 38 percent said it happened rarely, while about 30 percent said it never happened.

About 73 percent of Hispanic respondents said they did not face discrimination, while 27 percent of them said they had. White respondents had similar responses — 76 percent had not faced discrimination and about 24 percent said they faced discrimination.

Researchers also asked respondents who reported discrimination to describe the type of discrimination they had faced. Respondents chose from various categories: race/skin color, gender, age, religion, height/weight, sexual orientation, education/income, physical disability and other. Overall, 58 percent of respondents reported “other” as the reason for their discrimination, while 10 percent attributed it to race/skin color. For black respondents, race and religion were the top two self-reported reasons for discrimination, the study found.

“Our results thus provide at least somewhat of a counterweight to possibly exaggerated claims that discrimination is a prevalent feature of contemporary life in the United States. Results from the Add Health data seem generally inconsistent with such claims,” the researchers noted.

They also pointed out that there are some limitations to their study, like the fact that not all racial and ethnic groups in the United States were represented in the study and that the questions may point to behavior that was unfair, but not discriminatory.

“In short, much caution is necessary when interpreting our findings. What should be avoided is the conclusion that our results suggest that the problem of discrimination in the US is, to any great extent, remedied and in need of no further scrutiny or improvement,” the researchers concluded.

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