Estimating the Effect of Asking About Citizenship on the US Census: Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial

13 Pages Posted: 3 May 2019

See all articles by Matthew Baum

Matthew Baum

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Bryce Dietrich

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Rebecca Goldstein

Harvard University

Maya Sen

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: March 30, 2019

Abstract

The 2020 U.S. Census will, for the first time since 1950, ask about residents’ citizenship status. The effect of doing so on census completion across different racial/ethnic groups is, however, unknown. We introduce the notion of contextual sensitivity to explain how seemingly innocuous questions can become costly to answer in certain political environments. Using this concept and a large survey experiment (n = 9,035 respondents), designed to mirror the appearance and substance of the 2020 Census, we find that asking about citizenship status significantly increases the percent of questions skipped, with particularly stron effects among Hispanics, and makes respondents less likely to report having members of their household who are of Hispanic ethnicity. When extrapolated to the general population, our results imply that asking about citizenship will reduce the number of Hispanics reported in the 2010 Census by approximately 6.07 million, or around 12.03 percent of the 2010 Hispanic population.

Suggested Citation

Baum, Matthew and Dietrich, Bryce and Goldstein, Rebecca and Sen, Maya, Estimating the Effect of Asking About Citizenship on the US Census: Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial (March 30, 2019). HKS Working Paper No. RWP19-015. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3381224 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3381224

Matthew Baum (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-1291 (Phone)
617-495-8696 (Fax)

Bryce Dietrich

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Rebecca Goldstein

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Maya Sen

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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