Demographics and Population Data

There is a broad array of international, national, tribal, state, provincial, regional and local data available to describe age, gender, race/ethnicity, wealth, income, location and other demographics of many peoples and places. In every instance, there are both technical and political issues to consider in the use of these data. Large scale, public databases reflect societal values. They also reflect which data various entities are willing to invest in collecting, and at what level of completeness and accuracy. Databases also reflect individual and societal decisions about what information groups are willing to share with strangers. In addition, data are often categorized in ways that reflect dominant cultural norms. And, even when these norms are changing (as in the case of acknowledging multi-racial identities or various gender identities), public databases may lag years or decades behind current understandings.  

Why does all this matter for racial equity work? For two reasons: first, the people most likely to be short-changed in the available data are often the most marginalized or invisible. A consequence of undercounting is that conclusions drawn from large-scale databases may be based on a false understanding of the reality of the whole and of particular groups. In addition, investments in data collection and analysis are often insufficient to get the level of detail needed to understand how system forces – policies, opportunities, resources and conditions – contribute to particular results. All of these factors – time lags in data, the way we categorize groups, undercounting and insufficient detail – challenge strategy development. So, while available demographic and population data can be useful, it is very important always to be cautious about the timeliness of the data, who is likely to be over or underrepresented, and what assumptions are built into conclusions produced by the data providers and second-level users. This is particularly true when drawing conclusions across groups, places and/or databases.

Also in this section: