Big data is a big buzzword today, but the United States has been in the business of big data since the signing of the Constitution.
Every decade since 1790, the U.S. government has taken on the task of counting every “free” American person. But the Census is so much more than just a counting of heads. It’s been described-- by no less an authority than the U.S. Supreme Court--as the "linchpin of the federal statistical system … collecting data on the characteristics of individuals, households, and housing units throughout the country."
While the Census is conducted every decade, the Census department regularly updates its data to improve or clarify its statistical reporting. Many things in our country change over a 10-year period: immigration, housing, employment, drive-time commuting and 30 other statistical categories are reviewed and revised as new information is collected and analyzed. The most significant changes over the last ten years relate to how the Census counts and identifies LGBT households.
Prior to this decade, all demographic information on the LGBT community came from surveys conducted by other organizations. The results varied quite a bit. A survey assessing Americans’ health and behaviors found 1.6 percent of adults self-identified as gay or lesbian, while a 2012 Gallup poll found 3.4 percent of adults identifying themselves as LGBT. A British study on Methodology of surveying LGBT households had a big impact on reporting results, with respondents reporting they were least likely to conceal their sexual orientation when they completed an online survey, as opposed to answering questions from a pollster.
The Census department has been adding LGBT household information to its database since 1990, it began counting same-sex couples as “partnerships.” In 2010, the first well-sourced hard data identified nearly 640,000 unmarried same-sex couples, split fairly evenly (slightly more female-female couples), 7 percent of them living in Florida. Of course, as the number of states approving same-sex marriage increased, the Census continued adjusting its data, recognizing married same-sex couples as “families.”
Now that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, the Census is in the process of crafting questions to further clarify—and more accurately depict—LGBT households. A 2015 study on “Improving Measurement of Same-sex Couples” indicated “serious problems with couples who misreport” their status by checking more than one box on the form. These “mismarking” issues resulted in counting errors, which the Census is now in the process of fixing, revising questions that cause reporting mistakes. So, for example, in the 2020 Census, the question “How are you related to this person?” will include the choices “Same-sex husband/wife/spouse” and “Same-sex unmarried partner.” These changes were designed to get more accurate data on the number, type and makeup of LGBT households.
Why is all of this so important? A number of reasons. First, the 2020 Census will be the first time in our nation’s history that the U.S. Census will fully count, identify and analyze data related to same-sex marriage, a huge milestone. This data will allow marketers and research companies to better target messages specifically to same-sex married couples. It will also create the opportunity to show how same-sex and opposite-sex families are similar (i.e. raising children, household spending, housing status, etc.).
All consumer research originates from the data collected by the Census. The opportunities to “normalize” same-sex marriage will increase rapidly as soon as the 2020 data is published and analyzed.
Marty Gould & Chuck Dinsmore are the founding partners of Data Clique, a Ft. Lauderdale-based market intelligence firm, specializing in lifestyle segmentation data analysis.
Note that the opinions expressed above are those of the authors, and not necessarily reflective of the GLBX or the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce.