Friday, June 19, 2009

Counting Same Sex Couples in the Census

Potentially great news - the Obama administration, hoping to score some points with gay and lesbian voters after a series of profound let-downs, has instructed the Census to try to count married same sex couples.

I fully support making the effort to count married similar gender couples. Not counting them smacks of denying their existence, which is untenable. But, it's going to take more than jiggering the software to simply acknowledge married similar gender couples in the Census. It's going to require re-interviews, which is going to require funding and a plan.

And that's because of a simple statistical fact.

Most married same-sex couples on the Census are not married same-sex couples.

Huh? Understanding that statement takes a bit of background, don't worry, it won't be painful...

The census form is a piece of paper that gets mailed to most people's homes, or gets filled out in a number of other ways by census enumerators (people who go door to door and from underpass to underpass looking to try to count as many people as possible). But most of the time, the census form is filled out by whoever is living at home.

That piece of paper then gets scanned into a computer and tabulated, counted with a few other hundreds of millions of pieces of paper.

And every once in a while, there is an error.
Some of those errors come from the process of scanning it in, but most come during the process of filling out the piece of paper.
But let's take another step back in the process. Getting counted as a married same-sex couple relies on three pieces of information: 1) the reported sex of the householder, 2) the relationship of the householder to "person 2", and 3) the reported sex of "person 2".

For example, if the householder checked herself off as Female, her relationship to "person 2" as Husband or wife and the sex of "person 2" as Female, then they would be considered a same-sex married couple.
So far, all well and good.
But the problem comes in that sometimes (usually pretty rarely), someone makes an error somewhere along the line - and it's not the same-sex married couples we have to worry about here - it's the married mixed-sex couples.
Let's say a small minority (say one quarter of one percent) of married mixed-sex couples are confused by the form, or are inattentive. Perhaps the person filling out the form starts with "person 2" out as her husband, but then her daughter calls in from the other room, and when she comes back to the form, she's thinking about her daughter and fills in Female. An innocent enough mistake. There are a thousand other scenarios where someone could get confused, inattentive, or just mark the box incorrectly.

There are a lot of married mixed-sex couples in this country, in the 2000 Census, there were a bit over 70 million of them. So, if only one quarter of one percent of the 70 million made an error filling out the form there would be 175,000 couples miscounted as same-sex married couples.
Assuming that all the legally married same-sex couples identified themselves correctly, it still wouldn't come anywhere near that large a number. So, the number of apparent married same-sex couples would be much larger than it really is, and most of these would, in fact, be erroneously classified mixed-sex couples.

That's why when you look at Census numbers, there seem to be a lot more same-sex married couples than we know actually got married, and married same-sex couples look a lot like married mixed-sex couples. That's because most of them are married mixed-sex couples, incorrectly classified. In fact, the married same-sex couples tend to be older, which is completely the opposite of what every demographic study of lesbian and gay people has found. That makes sense, considering that elderly people are probably somewhat more likely to make errors when filling out the form.

So, what's the fix?
Well, the only way to resolve who really is a same-sex couple and who is not would be to go back and ask them.
It would be a lot more accurate, and it's not hard to do. But it does take a small commitment of funds and personnel to get back in touch with the couple of hundred thousand people who will call themselves same-sex married couples on the 2010 Census.

For an example of how well it works, consider the work done by Susan Cochran and Vickie Mays at UCLA. They had a bunch of in-depth questions that they wanted to ask about the health of same-gender-loving people identified in the California Health Interview Survey, so they planned a follow-up conversation with anyone who identified themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, or who reported having sex with someone of the same sex.
Lo and behold, when they called these people back, a surprisingly large number of them were completely baffled - they were not gay, lesbian, or bisexual, nor had they had sex with someone of the same sex - somewhere during the interview, a small error had been made, and a very small proportion of the heterosexual majority had become a sizeable percentage of the sexual minority population inadvertently.
The largest group where these errors had occurred was among the elderly, so many that in future runs of the CHIS, they decided not to even ask anyone over 70 about their sexual orientation.

In conclusion, I'm not trying to throw a wet blanket on counting same-sex couples - just the opposite - I want to count them accurately. And an accurate count means going back to weed out the sizeable number of erroneously classified heterosexually married couples.

Make your voice on the issue heard! Support the NGLTF's petition

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Word Game - 1st Winner

hat bat pat pack mass ball

We have our first word contest winner!

Daniel added hat and bat to the list. I had thought of bat, but passed over hat initially, so now there's at least 14 words with this property...

Who's next?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Word Game - New Clue

mass ball pack pat

These four words share an unusual property (and there are at least 9 others that do as well, but I had to use wiktionary to confirm some of them).

is not a word, but if it were a word, it would also share this property.

When you figure it out, think up two more words that share this property, and send me the answers.

Several of you have noted that the 'a' in these words is a short vowel. The property has nothing to do with how the words are pronounced (directly, anyway), but it does matter how they are spelled.

You've almost got it!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Word Game Contest

pack pat mass ball

What do these four words have in common?

If you've got it, find two more words with this unusual (but easy to describe) property, and reply with just those two words.

Another clue - I'm pretty sure that there's no two-letter words that have this property, although an comes very close. I also haven't yet found any five-letter or longer words with this property, although there's no reason there shouldn't be (theoretically).

And thanks Nick for another shot, tot and roast. Now I've got another puzzle, to figure out what ball, pat, pack, tot and roast have in common. Hmmmm.

PS: I've now found 9 other words with this property (13 total), but some depend on some pretty obscure dictionary entries.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Word Game Contest

New clue!

ball pat pack

What unusual characteristic do these three words share?
To answer, give two more words that share the same unusual property (but not your rationale, if you know it, the words you pick will make it clear we're thinking the same thing.

Thanks Nick for guessing qualm and drat, not what I was looking for, but I'm curious what the common thread you saw was, now I have my own word puzzle to work on!

PS: I've found 6 more words myself, but there must be more than that...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Word Game Contest

ball pat

These two words share an interesting and unusual property.

That property can be explained in one simple sentence that any graduate of elementary school would understand.

To win the contest, tell me two other words that share this same property. Do not say what you think that property is.

Do not put anything else in your comment other than two words, or it will be deleted.

The winners will get the fabulous prize of satisfaction. Guaranteed.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Badminton. Board Game Night. Making Jam.

These are a few of my favorite things.

Making Jam
I've been making jam for years. I don't even especially like jam. But I like making it. In huge quantities.
This year, I paid attention to the prices on fruit, and I've been buying in bulk towards the end of the season. Started with two crates of strawberries. Next was 18 pounds of cherries. Looking forward to blackberry season, but I'd prefer to pick those myself from the wild (even if the 'wild' means from the large number of blackberry stands in our local public parks). Maybe I'll grab a bunch of grapes from my back yard in Providence this Fall, too. Unfortunately, I'm going to miss raspberry season in Vermont. Oh well.
Michael and I put together a few gallons of jam from the strawberries and cherries the other night, and I've been scratching my head trying to figure out how to get rid of it all now.

Still, my all-time favorite jam was the 'Horseneck Beach" jam Marc and I made a few years back. For reasons I don't understand, it was a banner year for beach plums, I'd never noticed them before, and haven't ever caught them in season like that since. We stuffed bags full of beach plums, and also rose hips because they were also especially ripe.
As raw fruit, neither beach plums nor rose hips are especially appealing. The plums are more stone than fruit, and taste sour. The hips have a narrow flesh protected by sharp hairs surrounding a seed pod that has a nasty tendency to pop open and fill your mouth with phthhhh.

But, throw 'em though a Foley food mill, and double their weight with sugar, and you've got a mighty fine jam on your hands.

Board Game Night
About a month ago, my roomies invited me to the board game night around the corner, at a coffee hut called On the Corner. We basically played our own game of Catan there, even though it's open tables, and had a good time.
I've been going back every Wednesday, played a few more games of Catan, and been introduced to a bunch of new games as well.
I've enjoyed meeting strangers - there's something relaxing about having this shared activity of playing a board game together. It's interactive, without being forced or too intimate too quickly.
I seem to have made a habit of it, we'll see how this thing pans out...

I've been playing badminton at the Y for the better part of a year now, and it's great exercise. Lots of running around, and it's a real challenge for my hand-eye coordination, which was never very good, and there's a lot more strategy than I've been able to grasp yet. But I always have a good night playing badminton, and it's a bit of a community, so it's nice to be interested in other people & have them interested in me.