The One in Eight Rule

March 23, 2005

While we were talking about movies yesterday in class I mentioned the 1 in 8 rule to the kids.

Actually, we were talking about the 1950s, so it was the 1 in 10 rule. (And, I was using 1990 census data, when it was the 1 in 9 rule.)

What is this?

According to the Census Bureau, at the turn of the twentyfirst century, about 12% of the American population is African American. About 12 % is Hispanic, but Hispanic is a racial identity that overlaps with several other and differently visible racial identities. About 4% of the population is Asian

This means that the null hypothesis for racial breakdown is that about one face in eight should be "black", about one face in ten should be "hispanic" and about one face in twenty should be "asian." I use the scare quotes because physical appearance is only a so-so guide to racial identity -- there are a lot of people whose faces could pass for something other than their identity.

So when you look at TV ads, or the characters in a kids picture book, or any other situation where the media is attempting to represent a cross section of America, you should expect to see these ratios. If you do not see them, then ask why.

But, of course, those are national averages. They do not match the population of either Philadelphia or Des Moines. So anytime you do see those ratios, you also have to ask why.

The topic came up as we were talking about 1950s movies, and what portion of the cast was white, especially extras and people in background roles. I had noticed it earlier - I am that sort of a geek - in that the Fisher Price Little People toy set and picture books are an almost perfect one in eight (I counted.) while The Wiggles' extras and cast are lily white. Of course, they made their early videos in a very white province of Australia.

As I said, the One in Eight Rule is the null hypothesis. You almost never see the null hypothesis, but it is what you use to compare the things you actually do see.

Posted by Red Ted at March 23, 2005 08:39 PM | TrackBack