expand such research in ways that could help to better understand and measure various kinds of racial and ethnic discrimination across domains and groups and over time. To address this problem, the Committee on National Statistics convened a panel of scholars in 2001 to consider the definition of racial discrimination, assess current methodologies for measuring it, identify new approaches, and make recommendations about the best broad methodological approaches. In particular, this panel was asked to conduct the following tasks:
Give the policy and scholarly communities new tools for assessing the extent to which discrimination continues to undermine the achievement of equal opportunity by suggesting additional means for measuring discrimination that can be applied not only to the racial question but in other important social arenas as well.
Conduct a thorough evaluation of current methodologies for measuring discrimination in a wide range of circumstances where it may occur.
Consider how analyses of data from other sources could contribute to findings from research experimentation, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development paired tests.
Recommend further research as well as the development of data to complement research studies.
Although there is substantial direct empirical evidence for the prevalence of large disparities among racial and ethnic groups in various domains, it is often difficult to obtain direct evidence of whether and to what extent discrimination may be a contributing factor. Differential outcomes by race and ethnicity may or may not indicate discrimination. Examples of studies using methods that persuasively measure the presence or absence of discrimination are rare, and appropriate data for measurement are often unobtainable. As a result, there is little scholarly consensus about the extent and frequency of discrimination and how it relates to continuing disadvantages along racial and ethnic lines (Fix and Turner, 1998).
One reason it is difficult to assess discrimination is that changes have occurred in the nature of prejudiced attitudes and discriminatory behaviors. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other laws that prohibit discrimination because of race in a variety of domains, overt discrimination is less often apparent. However, discrimination may persist in more subtle forms. Indeed, social psychological research suggests that relatively automatic and unexamined cognitive processes, of which the holder (and sometimes the target) may not be fully aware, can lead to discrimination (Devine, 1989; Fiske, 1998). These subtleties make defining and measuring discrimination more difficult.