Environmental issue conceptualization by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status (SES)

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By Hwanseok Song1, Neil Lewis2, Matthew Ballew3, Mario Bravo4, Julie Davydova2, H. Oliver Gao2, Robert Garcia4, Sofia Hiltner4, Sarah Naiman2, Adam Pearson5, Rainer Romero-Canyas4, Jonathon Schuldt2

1. Purdue University 2. Cornell University 3. Yale University 4. Environmental Defense Fund 5. Pomona College

Survey data from an mTurk sample to analyze how different social groups (race, ethnicity, SES) conceptualize what constitutes environmental issues.

Version 1.0 - published on 25 Jun 2019 doi:10.4231/V1PW-BQ37 - cite this Archived on 31 Jul 2019

Licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International


This project was a collaboration involving researchers from Purdue University, Cornell University, the Environmental Defense Fund, Yale University, and Pomona College. The aim of the study was to find how various social groups of different race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status have different conceptualizations of what constitutes an environmental issue. More specifically, racial/ethnic minorities and lower-income groups face disproportionate environmental risks, which may hold implications for how different segments of the public construe environmental issues.

We explored this possibility with a racially and socioeconomically diverse online sample of 1,191 U.S. adults, hypothesizing that, relative to White and higher-SES respondents, non-White and lower-SES respondents would report perceiving a greater number of pressing societal issues as “environmental.” Across 18 issues ranging from more ecocentric (e.g., climate change, industrial pollution), reflecting physical environmental hazards, to more anthropocentric (e.g., poverty, lack of access to grocery stores), reflecting social determinants and consequences of environmental risk, non-Whites and lower-SES respondents perceived them as more environmental. These differences were larger among anthropocentric issues and appear to be mediated by environmental justice concerns. Results hold implications for the measurement of environmental attitudes and efforts to promote collective action in racially and economically diverse populations.

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