A Social Distance Scale

Emory S. Bogardus
University of Southern California

IN MAKING the social distance scale in its present form,[1] the writer prepared a list of 60 single sentence descriptions, nearly all of which were heard in ordinary conversations where a person was expressing himself about other persons. These statements represent several different types of social relationships ; that is, they relate to contacts within the family, within social or fraternal groups, within neighbor-hoods, within churches, within schools, within play groups, within transportation groups, within occupational and business groups, within political or national groups.

One hundred persons [2] were invited to rate each of the 60 statements according to the amount of social distance which it is judged that the statements represent.[3] Each of the 100 persons was asked to judge the amount of social distance which he thought existed between the person making, for example, statement No. 1 and the person concerning whom it was made, from the standpoint of the first two, persons involved. In the same fashion each statement was judged.

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1.  "Would marry." 

2.  "Would be willing to have my brother or sister marry." 

3.  "Would be willing to have my son or daughter marry." 

4.  "Would have as chums." 

5.  "Would have a minority in my social club, fraternity, or lodge." 

6.  "Would have as a majority in my social club, fraternity, or lodge." 

7.  "Would debar from my social club, fraternity, or lodge." 

8.  "Would have as my regular friends." 

9.  "Would decline to have as friends." 

10.     "Would have merely as speaking acquaintances."  

11.     "Would decline to speak to." 

12.     "Would have as my guests at public dinners." 

13.     "Would decline to be seen with in public." 

14.     "Would have as my guests at private dinners." 

15.     "Would entertain overnight in my home." 

16.     "Would decline to invite to my home." 

17.     "Would allow one family only (of their group) to live in my city block." 

18.     "Would allow several families (of their group) to live in my city block." 

19.     "Would live surrounded by them in their neighborhood."  

20.     "Would rejoice when as my neighbors they gained increased social standing." 

21.     "Would feel disturbed when as my neighbors they gained increased social standing." 

22.     "Would debar from my neighborhood." 

23.     "Would take as my guests at church." 

24.     "Would have a few as members of my church." 

25.     "Would have one-half of my church composed of their group." 

26.     "Would have as my pastor, or religious guide." 

27.     "Would have as my teachers." 

28.     "Would allow a few of their children to attend school with my children." 

29.     "Would have none of their children attend school with my children." 

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30.     "Would have two-thirds of the school attended by my children composed of their children." 

31.     "Would have their children attend segregated schools." 

32.     "Would have my small children play with them regularly." 

33.     "Would have their young people as social equals for my adolescent sons and daughters." 

34.     "Would forbid my children from playing with their children." 

35.     "Would dance with in public regularly." 

36.     "Would dance with in private regularly." 

37.     "Would play bridge or golf with regularly." 

38.     "Would play bridge or golf with occasionally." 

39.     "Would decline to play bridge or golf with." 

40.     "Would take as guests on automobile trips." 

41.     "Would ride with them as their automobile guests." 

42.     "Would decline to ride in an automobile with them." 

43.     "Would have them ride in segregated sections of street cars." 

44.     "Would ride in same seat with them in street cars."  

45.     "Would have as mayors of cities in my country." 

46.     "Would have several of them in our Congress." 

47.     "Would debar them from being Congressmen." 

48.     "Would have as president of my country." 

49.     "Would have as voting citizens of my country up to 1/5 of total population." 

50.     "Would have as voting citizens of my country up to 1/3 of total population." 

51.     "Would have as voting citizens of my country up to 2/3 of total population." 

52.     "Would allow as visitors in my country but without citizen-ship rights." 

53.     "Would keep out of my country entirely either as visitors or citizens." 

54.     "Would work beside in an office." 

55.     "Would decline to work with in same office." 

56.     "Would work- under as my supervisor." 

57.     "Would have them as my business partners." 

58.     "Would have them in a competitive business near my business location." 

59.     "Would have them in a noncompetitive business near my business location." 

60.     "Would debar them as competitors in my business." 

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Each of the 60 statements was typed on a 3 by 5 slip of paper. Each judge was given the 60 different slips of paper and asked to distribute them in seven boxes or piles representing seven different degrees of social distance.[4]

When this was done each judge was asked to study care-fully the slips in each box or pile and to reclassify any that might be rated more accurately. No rule was made looking toward an even distribution. It was requested, how-ever, that at the close of the exercise, each of the seven boxes must contain at least one slip. In case more than 15 slips (25 per cent of the total) appeared in any box it was concluded that sufficient discrimination had not been used;[5] and the work of this judge was discarded.[6]

Social distance was defined in this instance for each judge as the degree of sympathetic understanding that exists between two persons or between a person and a group (personal distance, or personal-group distance). The judge was urged to view the social distance situation de-scribed on each slip as objectively as possible. Each judge of course worked independently of the others.

The 100 judges included 66 faculty members and graduate students, all imbued with something of the research point of view, and 34 undergraduates. The number included 62 women and 38 men.[7]

The judgments, ranging from 1 to 7 for each of the 60 statements by the 100 judges were added and the arith-

( 269) -metic mean taken. The mean varied from 1.00 for statement No. 1 to 6.98 for statement No. 53. In order to obtain a series of equal social-distance situations, the statements having means nearest 2.00,.3.00, 4.00, 5.00, and 6.00 were selected, which together with the statements (1 and 53) having means of 1.00 and 6.98 constitute the series of seven nearly equidistant social distance situations that were selected for the scale.[8] The seven statements are as follows :



1. Would marry

2. Would have as regular friends

3. Would work beside in an office

4. Would have several families in my neighborhood

5. Would have merely as speaking acquaintances

6. Would have live outside my neighborhood

7. Would have live outside my country

In administering the test the subject is given a list of 40 races, 30 occupations, and 30 religions together with the following general instructions :



You are urged to give yourself as complete freedom as possible. In fact, the greater the freedom you give yourself, the more valuable will be the results. Use only checkmarks or crosses.

Seven kinds of social contacts are given.

You are asked to give in every instance your first feeling reactions. Proceed through the tests without delaying. The more you "stop

( 270) to think," the less valuable will be the results. Give your reactions to every race, occupation, or religion in the following lists which you have ever heard of.

Social distance means the different degrees of sympathetic under-standing that exist between persons. This test relates to a special form of social distance known as personal-group distance, or the distance that exists between a person and groups, such as races, occupations, and religions.

By taking this test at intervals of six months or a year, a person can discover what some of the changes in attitudes are that he is undergoing. If given to a group at intervals, changes in group attitudes may likewise be gauged.

Specific instructions are also given as follows but are repeated at intervals so as to keep them before the subject's mind as steadily as possible.



Remember to give your first feeling reactions in every case.

Give your reactions to each race as a group. Do not give your reactions to the best or the worst members that you have known:

Put a cross after each race in as many of the seven columns as your feeling reactions dictate.

The instructions issued to persons administering the test include the following practical suggestions :



In giving this test to a group it is best for the leader to read over aloud the first page of the test and the instructions at the top of the second page, and to give opportunity for questions concerning the procedure.

It is also well for the leader to take a test and as he reads the names in the left hand column on each page, to go through the exercise himself, reading the names of each race, occupation, religion

( 271) aloud. In this way he will set a good example as a participant, and secure the best possible coöperation; moreover, he will be able from time to time to compare his own social distance reactions in each of the three fields.

The scoring procedure is kept as simple as possible, so that persons may score their own test records.



In scoring, the simple practice is used of adding the numbers of the columns nearest to the left which has been checked, for instance, for each race, that is, the checked column bearing the lowest number, and of adding these numbers for each race, and dividing by the total number of races that have been checked. In this way it is possible to obtain a person's racial distance quotient (Ra. D. Q.); also his occupational distance quotient (0.D. Q.), and his religious distance quotient (Re. D. Q.). By adding these and dividing by three, a number will be obtained which may be called his social distance quotient (S. D. Q.). If other distance tests are devised and taken by an individual, the results may be included in determining the individual's S. D. Q. By giving these tests to a person at intervals of perhaps six months or a year it would be possible to note changes in his attitudes.

By taking the lowest column number that is checked, for example, for each race by each member of group of persons and averaging the total it is possible to obtain a group racial distance quotient (G. R. D. Q.) for the given group toward each of the 40 races that are listed on p. 2 of the mimeographed form. In the same way group occupation distance and group religious quotients can be obtained.

If a given race, occupation, or religion has not been checked it should be omitted in the scoring.


  1. Now available in an experimental edition, mimeographed form, covering four pages, with page 1 given over to instructions; page 2, to racial distance; page 3, to occupational distance; and page 4, to religious distance. An additional but separate page explains the method of scoring.
  2. The writer wishes to express special thanks to each of these persons who so generously gave of his time in acting as a judge.

  3. Although the writer is indebted for the technique used in preparing this new social distance scale chiefly to L. L. Thurstone (Thurstone and Chave, The Measurement of Attitude, University of Chicago Press, 1929), he has varied from Thurstone methods at several points.

  4. Thurstone advocates a much larger number of divisions than seven, but preliminary experimentation by the writer raised the question whether the ordinary person can make very many more than seven clear-cut discriminations in dealing with materials of this type. There is room for further experimentation at this point.
  5. Following Thurstone's suggestion, op. cit.
  6. There were only two such cases. In each of these instances, however, there was a very uneven distribution as far as the remaining six boxes were concerned.
  7. The materials on hand show interesting differences between the social distance reactions of faculty members and graduate students on one hand, and of under-graduates on the other; also the differences in the social distance reactions of men and women.
  8. The wording of statement No. 6 which originally read "Would debar from my neighborhood" has been changed to its following form in order to make it more uniform with the wording of the other statements. Likewise No. 7 originally read "Would debar from my country."

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