Perceptions are not Always Reality – Minority Estimation Biases - American Society of Employers - Anthony Kaylin

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Perceptions are not Always Reality – Minority Estimation Biases

perception vs realityAmericans tend to overestimate the percentages of minority groups in the U.S.  The news, politics, and other outlets may exacerbate a situation or activity, simply because of reporting biases. A new poll from YouGov America appears to confirm that in broad terms, Americans consistently, and vastly, overestimate the size of minority groups.

When questions are asked, reality is ignored.  For example, what portion of society is gay and lesbian? Respondents say 30%; in truth it’s about 3%. Bisexuals? Respondents reported 29%; in reality, it's 4%. How about transgender? Those polled say 21%; yet it’s 0.6%.

It’s the same for religious, as well as racial and ethnic, minorities. Respondents estimate the country is 27% Muslim and 30% Jewish when the actual proportions are 1% and 2%, respectively. As for races, those polled think Native Americans make up 27% of the country when they are actually only 1%.  Asian Americans are perceived at 29% (actually 6%), and Black Americans are perceived at 41%, when they are 12%. Especially interesting, Black Americans estimate that on average Black people make up 52% of the U.S. adult population, and non-Black Americans estimate the proportion is roughly 39%.  The real figure is 12%.   And Hispanics, though a growing population, are only 13% of the population, although news and political figures would like everyone to believe that Hispanics are blanketing the country.

Surprisingly enough, the majority of illegal immigrants are those who overstayed their visas (approximately 700,000 or so per year), not those who crossed the border.   Visa overstays continue to outpace border apprehensions.

Some Other Interesting Estimations About Americans

Respondents think 65% of Americans have at least a high school degree when the actual portion is 89%. They also think:

  • 66% own a car when it's more like 88%
  • 59% have flown on a plane when it's actually 88%
  • 58% are Christians when the true portion is closer to 70%
  • 62% have a household income over $25,000 when in reality it's 82%

When numbers are over estimated, the results could have troubling effects.  The news cycle is very guilty of confirming estimation biases, depending on their political point of view.  As such, policy is being developed that is based on and seems to confirm those biases, regardless of whether the policy is needed or not.  These biases can permeate into the workforce and cause dissension among employees.

Further these biases can impact workforce actions.  For example, union numbers are at its lowest of any time.  Therefore, organizing campaigns at various Starbucks and Amazon facilities carry an inflated importance.  And since this administration appears to blame employers as the scourge of all employees, its policies impacting employers are becoming more pronounced.  For example, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is returning to the Obama administration days and taking a very proactive stand against nonunion employers.  The NLRB has stated that it would likely prosecute an employer who bans Black Lives Matter buttons that employees might wear at work, upending decades of decisions that employers have control over what type speech is prohibited at the workplace.

Moreover, the current administration is pushing pay gap analysis as an employer discriminatory issue.    Pay gap is not pay disparity.  Pay gap consistently is reported by this administration at $.82 to the dollar, but pay disparity (which focuses on people in the same job) has been reported when taking all factors into account, to be about $.98 to the dollar compared to men.  No, it is not equal, and it does have a long-term impact on the financial well-being of women, but positive progress has been made over the years.   

As HR professionals, words and numbers do matter.  Although at times it seems that the sky is falling in, the vast majority of organizations are not violating employees’ rights, discriminating against an employee/applicant group, or paying different rates based on gender.  Most organizations have their problems, but it’s more like family squabbles, which the pandemic has also exacerbated, than intentional discriminatory actions.  It is not without saying that harassment and retaliation do occur, but it is not as prevalent as many would like us to believe.


Source:  The Week 3/18/22, Forbes 5/25/21, NPR 1/10/19


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