Monday, March 15, 2010

Queering the Census

I don't know how many of you readers out there are dataheads like myself, but if you are, TUNE IN!

This will be the third U.S. Census in which we can (sort of) identify gay and lesbian individuals in the United States (1990, 2000, 2010).

I say "sort of" because well, it is not a COMPLETE measurement of gay and lesbian people. Far from it.

In the picture above, you can see that I am filling out our Census form (it is a $100 fine if you don't and an $500 fine if you lie btw).

If you combine the information about a person's sex and how they check the little box as to how the subsequent people in the household are related to the household head, you can get an idea of whether or not the COUPLE is a gay or lesbian couple.

For example, there will be some percentage of Americans who will check the box "husband or wife" and person 1 and person 2 will be of the same sex.

Similarly, there will be some percentage of Americans who will check the box "unmarried partner" and person 1 and person 2 will be of the same sex.

There are lots of problems with this (obviously).

The first of which is that we are only getting at COUPLED gay and lesbian Americans.

The second of many is that the Census, thanks to Fmr President Bush, follows the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (passed by Fmr President Clinton, liberal that he claimed to be) to the letter and will not recognize married gay and lesbian couples even if they are in states in which they are legally able to be married. So Census officials will (literally) RECODE these individuals in one of two ways:
1. they will change them to unmarried partners OR
2. they will change one individual's sex so that the couple will SEEM to be a heterosexual couple.

I shit you not. Welcome to America, 2010.

Furthermore, I'm not sure they will do this in any systematic way, nor are we researchers assured that such cases will be "flagged".

Third of many issues is that people eff up when they fill out the Census. Believe it or not, there is a small (and possibly significant) number of individuals who accidentally mark down the wrong sex. So, say a heterosexual male is filling out the Census and he marks himself down as a female accidentally. Then that couple will be seen as a lesbian couple who said they were married.

This problem translates into a statistical nightmare for researchers -- a small statistical error magnifies itself among minority populations.

I am writing all of this to say that if you are interested in getting a more thorough "snapshot" of America, then Queer the Census!


Fiona said...

Very interesting info! Where did you hear that census officials actually change marriage status if it appears that it is a same sex couple? Just wondering because I've mentioned that to a few people and they didn't believe me!

giddings said...

Check out Black et al. At the Urban Institute and The Williams Institute.