2002). Indeed, direct measures of experiences and perceptions of discrimination are probably best used to support valid findings from other kinds of studies to estimate the contribution of discrimination to observed disparities in outcomes among racial groups. Longitudinal data in particular can provide useful information about process-related differences across racial groups, such as changes in perceptions and experiences (as well as outcomes) over time.2 Thus, despite our caveats, we conclude that it is informative to consider directly reports of levels and changes in discrimination and prejudice.


Probably the most extensive data on experiences and perceptions of racial discrimination come from survey research. We therefore begin this review of sources of observational data on discrimination by discussing in detail the content, uses, advantages, and limitations of surveys of interpersonal relations and racial discrimination. We then examine more briefly three additional data sources: governmental administrative data, nongovernmental data, and in-depth interviews.

Surveys of Interpersonal Relations and Racial Discrimination
Design and Strengths

Surveys of interpersonal relations use interviews or questionnaires to collect detailed information about respondents’ perceptions of and experiences with discrimination. Researchers use this information to better understand the causes and consequences of various forms of discrimination and to investigate relationships among racial attitudes and beliefs, on the one hand, and perceptions and experiences of discrimination on the other. The surveys are typically administered on a regular basis, either cross-sectionally or longitudinally, so that researchers can observe changes over time in attitudes and perceptions and in the relationships between them.

In his review of survey research methods, Fowler (1993) describes three key methodological components—sampling, interviewing, and question design—that are necessary for designing quality surveys and collecting credible data. First, survey researchers use probability methods to randomly


Two kinds of surveys provide change measures of phenomena over time: repeated cross-sectional surveys, which interview new samples of people (or other sampling unit) at annual or other intervals, and longitudinal or panel surveys, which interview the same people more than one time. Repeated cross sections are useful to construct time series, such as percentages of white and black people who perceive discrimination against blacks; longitudinal surveys are useful for analysis of changes in individual behavior and attitudes and reasons for them.

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