U-M Detroit Arab American Study portrays a complex population

July 29, 2004
  • umichnews@umich.edu

U-M Detroit Arab American Study portrays a complex population

Report summary of the The Detroit Arab American Study (.pdf)

Voters in Dearborn, MI Photo: © 2003 Jim West Photography

ANN ARBOR—Fifteen percent of Arabs and Chaldeans in the Detroit area say they personally have had a "bad experience" after the Sept. 11 attacks because of their ethnicity, according to preliminary results from a University of Michigan study.

These experiences include verbal insults, workplace discrimination, targeting by law enforcement or airport security, vandalism, and, in rare cases, vehicular and physical assault. But a greater proportion (one-third) have received expressions of support from non-Arabs.

A majority of the representative sample of Detroit-area Arabs and Chaldeans surveyed by the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR) favor increased law enforcement and intelligence agency surveillance to ensure U.S. homeland security. But only 17 percent—compared with 49 percent of a representative sample of the general population in the area—support increased surveillance that targets Arab Americans.

The general population believes Arab Americans need to do more to fight terrorism, while nearly 75 percent of Arabs and Chaldeans say they are doing all they can. Just 36 percent, compared with 53 percent of the general population, believe that U.S. involvement in the Middle East is contributing to the region’s stability.

In this landmark study of one of the oldest, largest and most visible Arab-American communities in the nation, researchers interviewed 1,016 Arabs and Chaldeans and 508 members of the general population in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. The Detroit Arab American Study, funded primarily by the Russell Sage Foundation, is a collaboration between the U-M’s ISR, the University of Michigan-Dearborn and an advisory panel of community representatives from more than 20 secular, religious and social service organizations.

"Arabs, Chaldeans and others of Middle Eastern descent have been singled out for public scrutiny and government surveillance," said U-M sociologist and business professor Wayne Baker, who led the research team. "Speculation about this population has been intense, but accurate information is rare. This report provides a reliable and comprehensive profile of this important community.

One popular misconception the new findings correct involves the community’s religious affiliations, according to researcher Ronald Stockton of the U-M-Dearborn Center for Arab American Studies. "The majority of this population is Christian—about 58 percent—and 42 percent are Muslim," Stockton said.

While both Christian and Muslim members of the Arab community are deeply religious, Muslims are much more likely to worry about the image of their religion and the future of their families.

"Forty-two percent of Muslim Arabs feel that their religion is not respected by mainstream society, compared to just 11 percent of Christian Arabs and Chaldeans," said Princeton University political scientist Amaney Jamal, a member of the study team. "When asked whether they worry more since September 11 about the future of their families in the U.S, 58 percent of Muslims said they do, compared with 31 percent of Christians."

Among the study’s other key findings:

• Although three-quarters of the Arabs and Chaldeans surveyed were born overseas and immigrated to the U.S., a large majority—79 percent—are U.S. citizens. Most are bilingual and 80 percent speak English well or very well. Eighty-six percent say they feel at home in the U.S. and 91 percent say they are proud to be American.

• Arabs and Chaldeans are both richer and poorer than Americans as a whole, with 25 percent claiming household incomes of more than $100,000 and the same proportion struggling to make ends meet with family incomes of less than $20,000 a year.

• Arabs and Chaldeans express more confidence in the American legal system and in local police than the general Detroit-area population, but are much more concerned about whether people accused of terrorism will receive fair trials.

• Arabs and Chaldeans are more likely than other residents of the area to take part in demonstrations and protests, but less likely to sign petitions or contribute to political campaigns.

• About three-quarters of Arabs and Chaldeans watch the news on television every day or several days a week and half feel that American news coverage is biased against Muslims. About 40 percent of the general population in the area agrees.  

"The Arab and Chaldean communities in the Detroit area clearly have a strong sense of cultural and religious identity, and many of them say they need to make a greater effort to communicate with and be open to other Americans," Baker said. "They also believe that the fight against anti-Arab stereotypes and discrimination is crucial. They want to improve their relations with other communities, achieve better representation in government and the media, and become more involved in American society while at the same time keeping their culture alive in America."

The Detroit Arab American Study research team also includes U-M researchers Sally Howell, Andrew Shryock, Ann Chih Lin and Mark Tessler.

Additional funds for the study were provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the following U-M units: the Dearborn Center for Arab American Studies; the Institute for Social Research; the Office of the Provost; the Office of the Vice President for Research; the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy (CLOSUP); the Michigan Business School and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

Face-to-face interviews were conducted among adults of Arabic or Chaldean descent who were 18-years-old and older and resided in households in the tri-county Detroit metro area between July and December 2003, randomly selected from an area probability sample and from mailing and membership lists. A total of 1,389 eligible households were identified in the initial screening process, with 1,016 (73.1 percent) completing the study interview. The AAPOR response rate for the combined dual-frame sample was 73.7 percent. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percent.

For more information about the Detroit Arab American Study, including a copy of the executive summary and full technical information on the survey, visit the ISR web site at www.isr.umich.edu.


Established in 1948, the Institute for Social Research (ISR) is among the world’s oldest survey research organizations, and a world leader in the development and application of social science methodology. ISR conducts some of the most widely-cited studies in the nation, including the Survey of Consumer Attitudes, the National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, the Columbia County Longitudinal Study and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the Institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China, and South Africa. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the world’s largest computerized social science data archive. Visit the ISR Web site at www.isr.umich.edu for more information.


Jim West Photographywww.isr.umich.eduwww.isr.umich.eduSwanbrow@umich.edu