Race survey question


Table of Contents

What is a race survey question?

As confusing as it can be, race and ethnicity are very different things. And if you decide to ask survey questions on any of those, make sure to be extra careful as trying to categorize people into pre-defined racial and ethical groups can be offensive for some. 

When we talk about race, we refer to a person’s biological, genetic physical structure. Whereas ethnicity is from what culture, tradition, roots, history and geography a person comes from. But why is it important to ask questions on race in your survey? Well, as a business which is spread globally, you want to know how people from various backgrounds respond to your survey questions. Customers belonging to different nationalities, race and ethnicity might feel differently about the same thing. So, to do business efficiently and with taking everyone on board, it is important that you include race and ethnicity questions in your survey, keeping in mind the sensitivity of the topic. 

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Race and ethnicity standards before

In 1977, OMB (Office of management and budget) stated Statistical policy directive number 15, Race “Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting” which identified four major racial categories such as: 

  • American Indian or Alaskan Native, 
  • Asian or Pacific Islander, 
  • Black, and 
  • White. 

And, two ethnicity categories were identified: 

  • Hispanic Origin and 
  • Not of Hispanic Origin.

Race and ethnicity standards today

Later on in 1997, OMB issued Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity which had two new modifications.  

  • Asian or Pacific Islander category was divided into two categories – “Asian” and  “Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander,” 
  • The term “Hispanic” was changed to “Hispanic or Latino” (“Spanish Origin” can also be used in addition to Hispanic or Latino). 

So that makes now five categories for data on race: 

  • American Indian or Alaska Native 
  • Asian 
  • Black or African American 
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander 
  • White 

And two categories of ethnicity: 

  • Hispanic or Latino or Spanish Origin 
  • Not Hispanic or Latino or Spanish Origin

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While asking race and ethnicity questions in a survey

According to the guidance issued by OMB on October 19, 2007, data collection on race and ethnicity by postsecondary institutions must use two-question format: 

  • The first question will ask the respondent whether he is “Hispanic or Latino or Spanish origin” or “Not Hispanic or Latino or Spanish origin”. Here, “Hispanic or Latino or Spanish Origin” is defined as a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race. 
  • The second question asks the respondent to select one or more races he belongs to from the following list: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, White. When it comes to postsecondary institutions, they cannot allow the respondents to select more than one race they belong to while collecting data.  

This gives us 64 possible combinations of responses (including non-response to either question), up to and including the selection of all five race items.

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