A funny survey measurement problem

When preparing our GSS survey questions on social and political polarization, one of our questions was, “How many people do you know who have a second home?” This was supposed to help us measure social stratification by wealth–we figured people might know if their friends had a second home, even if they didn’t know the values of their friends’ assets. But we had a problem–a lot of the positive responses seemed to be coming from people who knew immigrants who had a home back in their original countries. Interesting, but not what we were trying to measure.

4 thoughts on “A funny survey measurement problem

  1. If the problem you outlined is that significant, you may need to be more direct in the survey and ask about "vacation homes".

    I realize it isn't completely optimal, since it may eliminate owning a second home for investment purposes, which would still fit the social stratification model. But at least you may have solved the initial survey question issue.

  2. No, they mean actual house. I know many immigrants, and they are rarely the legendary man who arrives on the shores of the new country with empty pockets. Perhaps those stories were rarely true either: it's a great way of guilting on your grandkids, isn't it?

    Interestingly, I also have two white male close friends my age, who are natives (of my first world country) who have recently bought second homes in the (third world) countries of their wives, with the intention of retiring there.

    Their two homes in two countries presumably mark them as rich in this survey, but the same two homes belonging to a couple who are from those countries (or a couple where the woman is from here and the man is an immigrant) marks them "incorrectly" as rich, apparently.

    Doubtless some pretzel language from a Colonial Studies major, peppered with words like "privilege", can explain why only the white people are rich oppressors, and relieve the mental dissonance. :-)

    Snark aside, consider that those second homes are *very cheap*. If you want "second home" to imply unusual wealth, redesign the survey to specify that the second home must be in the same country, and live with the fact that house prices aren't exactly uniform within countries either. Or restrict it down to state or even county level; the closer the two houses are, the less likely house #2 is to be a needed connection to family back home.

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