Defining Disproportionality and Disparity

Disproportionality means a particular race or cultural group shows up in a greater or smaller quantity than that group’s proportion of the population. Disproportionality is defined as an “overrepresentation or underrepresentation of a racial or ethnic group compared with its percentage in the total population.

The reasons behind disproportionality can be varied, but knowing that disproportionality exists is the first step to ensuring that everyone has access to the support and resources they need.

Disparity is different than disproportionality. It is defined as “unequal outcomes of one racial or ethnic group compared with outcomes for another racial or ethnic group.” Disparity indicates that there is something needed to ensure the most helpful and relevant supports are available for that group.

Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway

What Is Disproportionality and Disparity?

Disproportionality means a particular race or cultural group is over-represented in a program or system. It’s a situation that’s been documented for decades in various programs and systems nationwide. Disparity refers to differences in outcomes and conditions for some groups of people compared to other groups because of unequal treatment or services.

Disproportionality and disparities are found in systems such as child welfare, special education, juvenile justice, criminal justice, and health care. There are more African Americans and Native American in these systems than their percentage of the general population would indicate and for their outcomes are poorer. This is true both nationally and in Texas.  

In Texas, a higher percentage of African American children:

  • Are removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect.
  • Don’t return home to their families.
  • Grow up in foster care without being adopted or finding another permanent home.

Is Disproportionality a Symptom of a Larger Social Problem?

The causes of disproportionality are complex and cross many social systems. Some scholars think family risks, institutional and personal biases, system processes and resources, and geographic context all play a role.

The child welfare system, justice system, education system, and other systems must work together to address these issues. Child Protective Services works with local, regional, state, tribal, and national agencies across many systems to identify common issues, eliminate barriers to community services for all Texans, and work strategically to eliminate disparities.