How Accurate are National Surveys of Hispanic Families and Households?

National surveys are relied on to produce critical information about the makeup of the United States population, but how well do they measure different ethnic groups?

In a recent research study by authors Maria A. Ramos-Olazagasti, Lina Guzman, Marta Alvira-Hammond, Emily Miller, Christina Padilla, Renee Ryberg, and Claudia Vega published by Child Trends takes a closer look at this topic.

As the United States continues to become more racially and ethnically diverse, the Hispanics, in many cases, are leading the cultural shifts. Additionally, the Hispanic population itself has become more diverse to include nativity, country of origin, citizenship status, and location in the United States.

As these changes continue, surveys are completed in hopes of learning more about what Latino families look like, how they are organized, how couples interact with each other, how they parent their children and so on. Researches note in the publication that this information is designed to help identify the strengths and needs of the Hispanic population as well as to inform the design of culturally relevant policies and programs.

The publication goes on to question our nation’s capacity to measure, describe and understand the structure, diversity, complexity, and dynamics of Hispanic family life.

The Authors of the publication reviewed more than 20 mostly national surveys that included large Latino sample sizes in an effort to learn to what extent they include appropriate measures that aid in that understanding.

The key findings of this research project were summed up in one sentence, “The capacity of our nation’s current data infrastructure to describe the characteristics and experiences of Latino families and households is limited.” The researchers note the data infrastructure provides less information about what happens inside the Latino family and is limited in its ability to describe the diversity within Latino communities. Additionally, they note few surveys collect information on family functioning and processes such as couples’ relationship quality, co-parenting, and fathers’ involvement with their children – “restricting our ability to understand family processes among Latinos.

The researchers highlight the following key areas:

  • Data are available to adequately describe the structure of Hispanic families and households.
  • Our nation’s data infrastructure has not kept up with the demographic shifts in the country.
  • There is a dearth of information on relationship dynamics among Hispanic couples.
  • Our knowledge of parenting behaviors – and fathering, in particular – among Latino families is limited.
  • No survey allows us to get a complete picture of Hispanic diversity and family life.

Following these findings, the research team concluded the following recommendations:

  • Assemble a new population-based cohort that captures the current demographic composition of the United States.
  • Obtain more granular demographic information that can help unpack the diversity within Hispanic families – namely, the 10 key data elements.
  • Inquire about couple dynamics, parenting, and co-parenting from both parents’ perspectives, regardless of residential status.
  • Collect data across multiple points in time to allow for examinations of change over time.

The original publication via Child Trends provides even more details and information about this topic.

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