Quantitative and qualitative results informed instrument development for our field test. Our external advisors confirmed that the main objective of the field test should be to assess the two most common ways to ask about self-reported experiences of racial/ethnic discrimination.1
The first approach, early attribution, is to ask participants specifically about discrimination based on race/ethnicity (e.g., Have you been unfairly treated because of your race/ethnicity?). The second, late attribution, is to first ask participants about unfair treatment, and then ask participants about the reasons for this unfair treatment (e.g., Have you been unfairly treated? What was the reason?).
Two studies suggest that results may vary with the way questions on racial/ethnic discrimination are asked.31,32
The first study compared explicit versus generic measures of discrimination (parallel to the two approaches in our field test, early and late attribution, respectively) and found that prevalence, correlates, and associations with mental health vary depending on question framing.31
The second study, using data from the NLAAS, found that these two different approaches yielded discrimination scores that were only modestly correlated (r=.43).32
Among the participants who reported that they had experienced racial/ethnic discrimination in response to the direct question (early attribution), nearly one-third stated that they had not experienced unfair racial/ethnic treatment in response to the two-stage question (late attribution). Conversely, among participants who, in response to the late-attribution question, stated that they had experienced unfair treatment, fully half stated, in response to the early-attribution question, that they had not experienced racial/ethnic discrimination. In the NLAAS example, the early attribution approach had 3 items, whereas the late attribution approach had 9 items and there was incomplete overlap in the content between the two approaches. For instance, early attribution included a question on unfair treatment of friends that was not asked in late attribution. Because the questions directly assessing racial/ethnic discrimination and those assessing unfair treatment were not identical, we do not know the contribution of variation in question wording to the observed differences.33
This is an important limitation of these studies.
Our study will directly address this limitation. To do this, we have developed one instrument with two versions (each with 8 items on recent experiences and 5 items on lifetime experiences). The two versions differ only in their approach for eliciting self-reported experiences of racial/ethnic discrimination. Respondents will be randomized into the early and late attribution versions of the module. Responses will be compared across racial/ethnic groups. Thus, findings from our field test will enable researchers to directly address this critical methodological question.
Our first field test, on CHIS 2007, was in English and yielded a multi-racial/ethnic sample who identified as: Latino (n=2056), Asian American and Pacific Islander (n=1357), African-American (n=1069), Native American (n=763), Non-Hispanic White (n=2037), or multiracial (n=223). Data was collected from October 2007 through February 2008. In addition to conducting psychometric analysis on the split-sample described above, the two instruments will be evaluated for validity, cultural comparability and administration properties using qualitative and quantitative techniques. One example is behavior coding. We used this technique to conduct a qualitative study designed to identify patterns related to question performance along lines of racial/ethnic and sex groups with a subsample of approximately 500 respondents (100 for each of the 5 racial/ethnic groups). Findings from this analysis will complement psychometric and other findings.
The two approaches will be tested in multiple languages on the CHIS 2009 and compared. For this second round of field testing, both versions of the instrument are undergoing English simplification, cultural review, and translation in order to field the two approaches in Spanish and some Asian languages. We will use these data to refine the two approaches for asking about racial/ethnic discrimination. We anticipate that our final module will be ready for administration in CHIS 2011 and will be released for public use.