Dr. Edward Rincón challenges a research industry that has failed to keep pace with the linguistic and cultural nuances of a growing multicultural population.
It’s well documented that the U.S. population is more racially and ethnically diverse than in the past, and is projected to be even more diverse in the coming decades. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and other racial minorities will make up a majority of the population by the year 2050.
Unfortunately, when it comes to accurately measuring this multicultural population and their impact on the U.S., the research industry has not kept pace with their linguistic and cultural nuances.
Edward T. Rincón, Ph.D., a research psychologist, is urging companies, government agencies, nonprofits, and academics to adapt their research practices to improve the quality of data collected for multicultural participants.
Dr. Rincón, president of Rincón & Associates, LLC, has carved out a unique niche market and created a successful business studying multicultural consumers. He has taught survey research methods at several North Texas universities, and worked with hundreds of corporate, government, and social organizations for over 45 years.
He believes that the “growing disconnect between the research industry and the U.S. multicultural population is a key factor in the declining survey response rates and misleading conclusions related to programs and policies that impact the quality of life for multicultural populations.”
In a newly released book “The Culture of Research, Dr. Rincón identifies methodological problems in high-stakes studies that include multicultural persons and offers practical solutions.
MBE magazine recently spoke with Dr. Rincón to discuss his book as well as some of his findings as it relates to the 2020 Census.
Dr. Rincón’s answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: Marketers often create campaigns without actually understanding who they’re marketing to or how to effectively reach them, particularly as it relates to multicultural consumers. What did you discover about the research methodology that some marketers use?
Dr. Rincón: There’s a lot of interest in marketing, public relations, and advertising, but you have to take a step back and ask: How are all those decisions being made? Well, either you’ve done research, or you haven’t done research at all. Or you might be just shooting from the hip, advising people on how to target Hispanic, Blacks, and Asians with different marketing techniques. So, it’s a good idea to step back a little bit and start thinking about it. Am I making the right decisions and how do I know that?
One of the things that I discovered is that just being Hispanic or just being Asian or just being Black may not be enough to get the job done. Our cultural-related experiences have value but may need to be augmented with additional skills or experiences.
Out of curiosity, I put together a test that I called the Test of Latino Culture which included 20 multiple choice questions that tested for knowledge of demographic trends, media usage, consumer behavior, lifestyles, and research topics––areas that I thought, if I was hiring somebody to manage a Hispanic program or service or product, it seems like they ought to know these facts about the Hispanic population in the U.S.
I administered the test to a group of 400 academics, professionals, and students and discovered that out of the 20 questions, Hispanics got about half of them right. What’s interesting is that non-Hispanics got about as many right as Hispanics––which suggests that cultural background alone may not provide the “cultural edge” that is often assumed.
If you’re in this industry, you need to have a foundation of knowledge about your culture, not just what you grew up with. Our cultural experiences have value, but it’s insufficient, in my mind, to make strategic business decisions. If you have no business training, there’s more that you need here. We need more academic institutions to step up to the plate and include more courses that focus on multicultural populations, such as survey research, marketing, advertising, and mass communications.
Q: We recently went through a period where the current administration fought to end the 2020 Census early. Coupled with the coronavirus pandemic, many experts believe that census counts will be low. Additionally, past research shows that the internet is usually the last choice among communities of color to complete the census and surveys in general. We asked Dr. Rincon to discuss this trend and whether it still holds true, today, despite how heavily people rely on their cell phones.
Dr. Rincón: In survey research, when we’re doing telephone surveys, we always start with at least 70 percent of our sample being wireless numbers because landlines have declined significantly and we can obtain a better representation of different race-ethnic groups in a community.
In the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau relied primarily on mail questionnaires to complete the counts, but also used telephone surveys and personal interviews. For the 2020 Census, they decided to rely primarily on an online method strategy. The people that usually completed the online survey were the same people that have always had access to the internet, which is the upwardly mobile, the middle class, English speakers, and the college educated.
Those communities that struggled to complete the Census 2020 questionnaire are Black and Hispanic communities. It’s not something, however, that we didn’t know was going to happen because these are the same ones that have always struggled to complete the Census in past years.
In more recent years, we have learned that if you give a person more options to complete a survey––such as mail, online, and telephone options––then you increase the chances that they’re going to respond. And if you give them a choice of languages at the very beginning, then you’ve really increased the chances that they’re going to respond to the survey. Hispanic and Asian immigrants––when you give them a choice of an English or a native-language questionnaire––are more likely to choose the native-language questionnaire to complete the survey.
They may speak English and they may be able to write English. but that isn’t the point. The point is they can communicate better in their native language and the survey responses will be more valid since the questions are better understood.
The Census 2020 is in big trouble, not only because they relied primarily on an internet strategy, but because the current administration has made life very difficult for them to collect data––cutting off valuable time that they needed to conduct an accurate count and creating fear among immigrants by attempting to add a citizenship question to the questionnaire.
If you look at the chapter in my book related to mixed mode methods, you’ll see that the percentage of respondents that utilize online surveys was very, very small. If you look at those charts, you’ll see that the internet is the last option that communities of color and immigrants usually choose. Which always made me wonder: why did the Census Bureau rely primarily on the online method for the Census 2020? Why did they put so much investment in a strategy that was known not to pick up hard to count people? Now they’re paying the price because those are the people that they struggled to count in the last days of data collection for the Census 2020. And the pressure by the current administration to complete the data collection by October 15th caused uncertainty in the scientific community about the quality of the data that will emerge from the Census 2020.
Learn more about Dr. Rincón’s work.
Or, purchase his latest book.