National surveys provide important information about the United States population. Researchers, policymakers, program developers, and government officials use data from these surveys to describe the characteristics of the population, study patterns of behavior and how they differ for subgroups of individuals, make decisions about how to allocate resources, and inform programs and policies. As a result, it is critical to maintain a data infrastructure that reflects the current U.S. population.
The United States is increasingly becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, and Hispanics are, in many respects, leading many of the shifts in the population. The Hispanic population has not only grown rapidly over the past few decades, but has diversified in terms of nativity, country of origin, citizenship status, and geographic location within the United States. As the U.S. Hispanic population continues to diversify and comprise an increasing proportion of the general population, data are needed to understand what Latinoa families and households look like, how their family life is organized, how Hispanic couples interact with one another, how they parent their children, and how their experiences differ (if at all) from other racial/ethnic groups and within Latino subgroups. This information is necessary to identify the strengths and needs of the Hispanic population today, and to inform the design of culturally relevant policies and programs. However, the ability to do so is contingent on the availability of current data on this population.
This brief examines the capacity of our nation’s data infrastructure to measure, describe, and understand the structure, diversity, complexity, and dynamics of Hispanic family life. We reviewed more than 20 mostly national surveys with large Latino sample sizes to assess the extent to which they include measures critical to understanding the characteristics and experiences of Hispanic families and households. We specifically examined the extent to which these surveys collect information about family and household composition, family formation and stability, relationship dynamics, and parenting and co-parenting. We selected these domains based on their relevance to Hispanic family life and their importance in predicting children’s outcomes.
As the Hispanic population diversifies, it has become increasingly important to measure and describe the varied experiences within Hispanic families. For this reason, we also assessed the extent to which data sets include information that can characterize the heterogeneity of Hispanic families. We searched for the availability of 10 key data elements identified by a Hispanic Research Work Group Group convened by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) as those that are central to understanding the diverse social experiences of low-income Hispanic populations in the United States. Our review is intended to serve as a resource for researchers interested in studying Hispanic family life and those interested in identifying data sets that can inform policies and programs specifically designed for Latinos. The scan can also inform future data collection efforts.
The capacity of our nation’s current data infrastructure to describe the characteristics and experiences of Latino families and households is limited. On the one hand, large-scale and national surveys are collecting the needed information to count and describe the types of families and households in which Hispanic children and adults live. Additionally, several surveys provide at least some information to understand how Hispanic families are formed and how stable they are. However, our data infrastructure provides less information about what happens inside the Latino family, and is limited in its ability to describe the diversity within Latino communities.
Although many surveys capture some (albeit limited) information about parenting, few, for example, collect information on family functioning and processes that include couples’ relationship quality, co-parenting, and fathers’ involvement with children—restricting our ability to understand family processes among Latinos. More specifically, we found that:
Overall, based on our review, limitations in the sampling frame of existing large data sets—together with the lack of sufficient information about what occurs inside the home—signal a need for a new national survey of families and households. To adequately assess existing gaps in knowledge, this survey should:
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