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Machine-Readable Data Sources for Comparative Ethnic Research: Problems and Prospects

  • Author(s): Stephenson, Elizabeth
  • et al.
Abstract

In the introduction to this volume, Johnson and Oliver (1988) discuss the importance of exploring questions of ethnicity and ethnic group behavior in a comparative context and highlight a specific set of "ethnic dilemmas" requiring immediate attention and remediation. Answers to the types of comparative ethnic questions they raised would ideally require the collection of primary data via large scale social surveys. Because the design and conduct of a social survey is a time consuming and costly undertaking, especially for the lone researcher, social scientists have traditionally attempted to circumvent the problem by undertaking secondary analysis of previously conducted surveys. Given this longstanding research tradition, Stephenson (1988) has compiled an INDEX OF MACHINE-READABLE DATA FILES FOR USE IN COMPARATIVE ETHNIC RESEARCH. The index contains references to UCLA's holdings of surveys, public opinion polls, and both historical and current enumerative data. It will be significantly useful in comparative ethnic research on such topics as: Ethnic assimilation, segregation, and neighborhood change; Labor markets and entrepreneurship; Political and electoral behavior; Health and well-being; Crime; and, Education.

The purpose of this essay is to encourage future comparative ethnic research by highlighting potential uses and limitations of machine-readable data files, such as those referenced in the INDEX (Stephenson 1988). Toward this end, background details are provided on the organizations and agencies that collect or archive publicly available data and describe in detail selected data files. A second section will focus on data collection policies, sampling deficiencies and inherent limitations for research on comparative aspects of ethnicity and ethnic group behavior. In the concluding section the discussion focuses on, among other salient issues, the social scientist's role in future government decisions regarding the collection of data on ethnic groups in America.

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