Influyente y Resiliente: The Importance of Getting Data “Right” on U.S. Latinos

October 14, 2022

As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to a close and as companies wind down their celebration efforts, it’s an opportune time to revisit how Hispanics* continue to shape the United States, as well as the challenges they face year-round. To help address these challenges, companies must first understand the experiences and the nuanced differences that give rise to them. As consumers of data, companies should care about where their data comes from and how it was collected, especially when that data is being used to inform corporate strategy.

At 62.1 million strong, U.S. Hispanics account for 19 percent of the overall U.S. population. They are also the nation’s second largest population overall and fastest growing racial or ethnic group. Latinos also hold massive economic influence. In fact, if the U.S. Latino population were a stand-alone country, it would account for the fifth-largest gross domestic product (GDP) in the world, at $2.8 trillion—larger than the GDPs of the United Kingdom, India and France. It is also one of the fastest growing and most resilient groups economically; they increased their ranking as one of the biggest GDPs during the pandemic, being ranked as the eighth largest at the start of the pandemic and finishing 2020 as the fifth largest.

As a whole, Latinos represent a smart and resilient investment for companies. Yet, despite the enormity of their cultural and economic influence, research suggests that the U.S. Hispanic population is undercounted and underrepresented in national surveys and in social science research as a whole. One of the biggest challenges in collecting data on U.S. Hispanics is that Hispanics are more likely to be reluctant to participate in surveys, and when they do participate, they are more likely to refuse to answer certain questions. This is likely due to several factors, including misgivings of government and scientific research entities, language barriers for non-native English speakers and resistance to self-disclose information, especially among Hispanic men and undocumented immigrants.

Such underrepresentation in data can lead to incomplete understandings of the challenges Hispanics face when it comes to education, pay equity, health, media representation and more. Businesses rely on national survey and social science data for economic development and strategic planning. For companies whose revenue depends heavily on individual consumers, for example, the accuracy of such data is vital as it can be used to help determine need in a particular market. It is therefore critical for any population research to be intentional and thoughtful about Hispanic inclusion, as it can have consequences for strategy down the road. Below, we outline four ways researchers can ensure Hispanics are included in their methodologies.

  1. Implement privacy statements with clear introductory language. Foreign-born U.S. Hispanics are more likely to report data security concerns and feel a lack of control over how their personal information is collected and used than white Americans. Stressing confidentiality through the implementation of clear and concise privacy statements at the start of a survey can help alleviate and mitigate distrust.
  2. Provide English and Spanish translations with cultural nuances in mind. Translating your survey and data collection materials so non-native speakers can participate is crucial for capturing a sample that is representative of the U.S. population. Some words and phrases in English-language surveys, however, cannot be translated precisely, may be unfamiliar or hold a different meaning in other cultures. Researchers from the University of Texas, for example, found that Hispanics have a holistic conceptualization of health, seeing it as something that includes not only medical conditions but also social and spiritual wellbeing. This results in U.S. Hispanics rating their health poorly in comparison to non-Hispanic white Americans, the study found. Yet, “paradoxically, Hispanics score better than non-Hispanic whites on many objective public health measures such as mortality rates and low birth weights, and foreign-born Hispanics, as a group, are healthier than their U.S.-born counterparts.” Such an example illustrates how understanding the cultural implications of survey wording—such as “health”—can lead to measuring something different than originally intended. To mitigate this, provide clear definitions whenever possible and keep cultural context top of mind when translating a survey.
  3. Utilize cellphone interviews and optimize surveys for mobile devices. Hispanics lead all U.S. ethnic and racial groups in the percentage who are cellphone-only telephone users. Therefore, cellphone interviews, rather than landline interviews, will be essential to obtaining representative samples of Hispanic adults, especially of those under the age of 30. What’s more, optimizing online surveys for mobile accessibility is essential. It’s important to note, however, that survey optimization for mobile devices presents data security risks. The Urban Institute reports that “people of color with low incomes are more susceptible to privacy attacks because of their higher reliance on smartphones for internet access and how much personal information they give up for free cell phone app services. This information collection makes them more easily identifiable, especially if they are outliers in small geographies.” As such, it’s the responsibility of researchers to educate organizations and partners on the technological and methodological innovations that disaggregate data while protecting individual privacy.
  4. Leverage the expertise of others to better understand the nuances of Hispanic diversity. The Hispanic community is not a monolith. They are among the country’s most diverse racial and ethnic groups across a range of demographic characteristics, including education level, ancestry and nativity status. Ideally, when collecting data on such a diverse population, having an advisor who is educated on these nuances can help with how best to craft questionnaires and what the data means. They can also identify priority data elements—like Hispanic ancestry and heritage subgroup, country of birth, citizenship, language and education level—and help researchers understand how the insights gleaned from these elements can be used to improve their social and economic well-being.

Data is increasingly plentiful but not all data is equal. Thoughtful and intentional strategy requires thoughtful and intentional research. Whether buying or conducting their own, companies across all industries rely on social science research for effective strategic planning and decision-making. Latinos are an influential presence in the United States and getting data “right” on their experience is crucial in giving them a voice to help inform corporate strategy.

*Although the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino/a” often have distinct meanings, in this publication we use the terms interchangeably.

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