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Report dives into Latinos’ trust in science, representation in STEM

A Pew Research survey reveals what many Hispanics think about health care and Covid, and how Latinos in science and math think they're perceived by non-Latinos.
Image:   A Laboratory technician holds a bag with antibody and swab tests tubes for Covid-19 at SOMOS Community Care site in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City on May 22, 2020.
A Laboratory technician holds a bag with antibody and swab tests tubes for Covid-19 at SOMOS Community Care site in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City on May 22, 2020.Lev Radin / Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images file

Although Hispanics hold “largely trusting” views about scientists, about 6 in 10 feel Latino scientists aren’t visible enough in successful STEM jobs, according to survey results released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. 

The report is based on a survey of nearly 15,000 U.S. adults, including 3,716 Hispanics, whose responses make up most of the findings. The report also draws from a series of focus groups held with 29 Latino participants in July 2021. 

The results offer a comprehensive look at what Hispanic Americans think about science education, their representation in science-related fields, their interactions with the health care system amid the pandemic, and their level of overall trust with science-related news. 

Nearly three-fourths of Hispanic Americans say they can “rely a lot or some” on experts about the coronavirus and vaccinations, although many reported frustration about how news about the virus has been shared across partisan lines. 

In December 2021, almost half of them were talking about vaccines and the virus practically every day several times a week, while most Hispanic adults rated the competence of medical researchers as “largely positive.” 

About two-thirds prefer to see Hispanic health care providers, the report says. In addition, approximately a third prefer to see a provider who speaks Spanish. 

“I think a lot of times when they see us coming in or they see that they’re helping us out, they don’t feel like they have to give us the best medicine or they need to give us the best hope because they already feel like we probably come in with bogus insurance, if we even have insurance,” said a Hispanic man who participated in the focus groups in the report. “They give us stuff that’s not as great or they don’t give us all the best information because they feel like we’re poor.”

4 in 10 STEM Latinos have faced discrimination

In terms of STEM-related careers, more than half of Hispanics believe their community has not reached the highest levels of success in scientific fields, the report says, and “relatively few” Hispanic adults believe most scientists are “welcoming” to Hispanic professionals in those settings. 

Forty-three percent of Hispanic college graduates who work in science, technology, engineering and math fields recall at least one of several types of mistreatment — a 13 percent increase from white adults in similar jobs. One example highlighted in the report details how 34 percent of Hispanics who went to school in a STEM-related field say they recall being treated “as if they could not understand the subject matter,” whereas only 22 percent of white adults reported feeling the same way. 

Hispanics have been historically underrepresented in STEM fields in the U.S., despite making up a relatively disproportionate amount and growing part of the entire population. A previous Pew survey from 2018 provided evidence that some adults feel this dynamic may be due to a lack of role models in STEM fields, as well as racial and ethnic discrimination in recruitment, hiring and professional advancement.

According to the survey results, half of Latino adults believe greater visibility of high-achieving Hispanics in STEM would attract more students to the field. 

“More of us. We need to see more of our people,” one Latino focus group member is quoted saying. 

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