Who Is “On Welfare”? Validating the Use of Conjoint Experiments to Measure Stereotype Content

C. Daniel Myers, Kirill Zhirkov, Kristin Lunz Trujillo
August 30, 2022


We use the case of welfare recipients to validate conjoint experiments as a measure of stereotype content. Stereotypes are politically consequential, but their content can be difficult to measure. The conjoint measure of stereotype content, in which respondents see profiles describing hypothetical persons and rate these persons’ degree of belonging to the target group, offers several advantages over existing measures. However, no existing work evaluates the validity of this new measure. We evaluate this measurement technique using the case of welfare recipients. Stereotypes of welfare recipients are politically important and extensively studied, providing strong a priori expectations for portions of the stereotype, especially race, gender, and “deservingness.” At the same time, scholars disagree about the importance of another attribute with important political implications: immigration status. We find that aggregate stereotypes, measured via a conjoint experiment, match the strong a priori expectations: white Americans see welfare recipients as black, female, and violating the norms of work ethic. Individual-level stereotypes also predict welfare policy support—even when other demographic and ideological factors are accounted for. We also find that immigration status is not a part of the welfare recipient stereotype for most Americans, but support for welfare is lower among those who do stereotype welfare recipients as undocumented immigrants. Finally, we suggest an improvement in the conjoint task instructions. Overall, we confirm that conjoint experiments provide a valid measure of stereotypes.

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