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Ethnicity is the ethnic group or groups a person identifies with or has a sense of belonging to. It is a measure of cultural affiliation (in contrast to race, ancestry, nationality, or citizenship). Ethnicity is self-perceived and a person can belong to more than one ethnic group.

The census provides a baseline count for all official ethnicity statistics and is widely used with other demographic characteristics to inform research and policy development. Collecting ethnicity information in the census is required under the Statistics Act 1975.

We initiated a Review of the Official Ethnicity Statistical Standard (ROESS) in 2008 to understand the increase in written responses of 'New Zealander', from 2.4 percent in the 2001 Census to 11.1 percent in the 2006 Census. This review found an almost universal view amongst customers (users of the data) that the format of the census ethnicity question should remain unchanged. This is because of the applied use of the data and the requirement to measure across time.

Following this review, the Government Statistician decided there would be no change to the ethnicity question for the 2013 Census. We also decided that ‘New Zealander’ responses received on the 2013 Census form would continue to be reported under the ‘other ethnicity’ category.As was the case in 2006, we also published the number of ‘New Zealanders’ within the ‘other ethnicity’ category.

Responses of ‘New Zealander’ have fallen since 2006, at 1.6 percent in the 2013 Census.

Our current recommendations relating to ethnicity

  • We recommend that ethnicity be included with no changes in the 2018 Census.

See our preliminary view of 2018 Census content (pages 24-25) for a more detailed discussion on ethnicity information

See 2013 Census information by variable for information on the ethnicity variable


Phil (Facilitator) Wed 29 Apr 2015 9:44PM

Nau mai haere mai.
Welcome to our Loomio discussion about the measurement of ethnicity in 2018 census. We are really keen to hear your views about this important topic and to understand what matters to you and why. I'm Phil Walker and will be facilitating this discussion. I look forward to engaging with you all over the coming weeks.


[deactivated account] Fri 1 May 2015 3:42AM

Can someone explain what is mention be "New Zealand European"? It is not an ethnic group and intersects with other groupings such as "dutch" (European country) and Maori, a New Zealand grouping that may include individuals with ancestry from both European and Maori.
In other countries, the correct term for Europeans is Caucasian. Can someone explain the differences and complexities that apply. In New Zealand


Phil (Facilitator) Fri 1 May 2015 4:52AM

You might find some relevant information in the statistical standard for ethnicity http://www.stats.govt.nz/methods/classifications-and-standards/classification-related-stats-standards/ethnicity.aspx
What do others think?


Mike Clement Sat 2 May 2015 7:42AM

I believe that New Zealander should become a recognised ethnicity.

I do not feel I belong to Europe (or any country in Europe)... I feel that I am a New Zealander.

I do not like the term Pakeha, I am not a Pakeha... I am a New Zealander and I'm damn proud of it.


[deactivated account] Sat 2 May 2015 9:06PM

I think that, in all honesty, this category is politically confused, and needs a rethink. It would be shouted down if we were just to ask people if they were brown, or white. Yes? Yet ethnically, we ask if people are Tongan, Samoan, Fijian, Niuean etc, in other words, where you and your parents come from is what we are interested in. If you identify as Maori, we drill down even further, asking about tribal Iwi affiliations. That's great - I'm interested in that too. Yet when it comes to, for want of a better word, "white" people, just one tick box suffices? Aren't we interested in the pakeha whakapapa at all? Am I a first generation New Zealander or a fifth generation Pakeha? Is my background Chinese, Indian, German, French, or Polish? Otherwise we just get this fine level of detail about Maori. And just a big boring lump of data on the rest of Aotearoa ie white. Doesn't matter who they are or where they came from, we'll just call them white.
Seems wrong.


[deactivated account] Sat 2 May 2015 9:10PM

One thing I'm certainly not, however, is Caucasian. That would apply to people from the Caucasian mountains, ie part of Russia, and ethnically very separate from the rest of Europe. I may be part French and part German, but I'm certainly not Caucasian.


Racheal McGonigal Sat 2 May 2015 11:45PM

I am just a New Zealander.
Same as anyone else born in this country. I will not tick boxes marked New Zealand European or Pakeha. If there is a box marked other, I will tick that and write New Zealander in it.
I am insulted that Statistics NZ do not even have a box for the majority of us to tick.
We are a multi-natioinal country and there are now so many NZers, (born here) who have a vast ethnic history, it is time Statistics NZ recognised us for actually who we are and stopped dividing us up.
So what if we are part Chinese, part Indian, part Maori, part Scot, part Samoan or part anything, if you were born in this country you are a New Zealander.


Ruth Sun 3 May 2015 12:10AM

I agree that we should have a box that is just New Zealander. But also more options alongside the NZ European. What about NZ Chinese or NZ Samoan, etc. - people born in NZ of other decents are only given the option of being Chinese or Samoan / Fijian etc rather than a NZ (insert parental origin). Only people of European decent can be NZ (ethnicity). I dislike ethnic labels to start with, altho I understand the statistical interest in such numbers and labels. It feels like only Europeans are recognised by the government as 'properly' NZers if they are the only ones able to be called such. This is institutional racism.


[deactivated account] Sun 3 May 2015 1:47AM

@Rachel - absolutely agree. That's why I say that the question is confusing racial ethnicity with national socio-political identity. To me they are very different things. I too am a New Zealander, and that's a social / political identity that I am happy to wear. Ethnically however, like most kiwis, I'm a mixed bag of ethnicities from an array of countries. I'm quite happy to share that on a census form. But to me it is just as relevant to ask if my European part is from France or Spain, as it is to ask if my Maori part is from Ngati Toa or Ngai Tahu. Lumping all New Zealanders into one box seems wrong - both to Maori (who are obviously also New Zealanders) as well as to pakeha.
Some people I know object to being labelled Pakeha as they feel it sets Maori apart from non-Maori, and it's not nice to be labelled as something that you aren't, rather than something that you are. That doesn't worry me too much, but I would note that if pakeha is set to mean non-Maori, then should it not include Asian as well? Yet typically, we use pakeha to mean white - again, going back to the issue of the colour of your skin being the deciding factor.


Nat Sun 3 May 2015 5:43AM

Nationality != ethnicity. I'm a New Zealander by nationality, but Pakeha/NZ european by ethnicity, or if you want to break that down further, English, Scots etc. Same as Māori are NZ nationality, but Māori ethnicity.

The data outputs are useful for health/education measures and a bunch of other things.


Kay Sun 3 May 2015 7:08AM

I prefer pakeha to NZ European but I will tick either if I don't have the option of specifying my ethnic heritage, and my generational links to New Zealand.


Kay Sun 3 May 2015 7:14AM

Ethnicity and culture can be indicators of future health issues and of future family size. Maori and Pacific people tend to have larger families than pakeha or people of Chinese heritage (for example). Family size impacts on the need for schools, different types of accommodation and health services. There are reasons to collect the information, and people can provide information about their heritage while still being a "New Zealander".


John Russell Sun 3 May 2015 7:37AM

I do not identify as "New Zealand European", and am happy to be called (and refer to myself as) pākehā. I realise some object to this term, but I don't understand why.
Another common term is tauiwi which can and has been used to mean any non-Māori person born here. The basic meaning (as I understand it) is someone not of my tribe. I wonder if those who find pākehā offensive would be ok with identifying as tauiwi?


Racheal McGonigal Sun 3 May 2015 9:34AM

@John Russell - "I wonder if those who find pākehā offensive would be ok with identifying as tauiwi?"

No. It is a supposed Maori word written in the English language and has no meaning to me. I am a New Zealander - end of story. My ancestors do come from Spain, France, England, Scotland but I am 4th generation born in this country and am a New Zealander.

Many who claim to be Maori also can trace their heritage as I, to many parts of the world and should be proud of it but they are no more a New Zealander than I.
They too, are equally a New Zealander as I am but no more important.
WE are New Zealanders. Respect us for who we are and stop dividing us.


[deactivated account] Sun 3 May 2015 9:53AM

I'm with Rachel on that one too - if people have been disliking being called pakeha for years, they're certainly not going to like being called tauiwi! I am also a New Zealander. on a slight side note, if we accept that the name of the country we live in is Aotearoa, then does that make us all Aotearoans?


John Russell Sun 3 May 2015 10:38AM

@guymarriage So is the problem that some people just do not like using a Māori word to describe themselves?
@rachealmcgonigal Using a Māori word to describe my ethnicity is no more divisive than someone insisting on only using an english word to describe it.


Racheal McGonigal Sun 3 May 2015 11:18AM

@john Russell,,, No problem actually with Maori using the word Pakeha. Alas there are no full Maori left, I actually have alot of respect for full Maori and Maori ancestory. but if I must accept Pakeha then Maori need to accept PART - Maori.

But sorry, like many have no time for the wanna bees.
Tis easy to label me a racist but actually who is the racist, if that is done?


[deactivated account] Sun 3 May 2015 11:37AM

@john - not sure why people don't like using the word. The lost etymological origins of the word may put some people off. I'm perfectly happy with it. If anything, to make me feel more a part of Aotearoa, I'd call my tribe Ngati Pakeha. But I think the use of defining somebody as something they are not, is the root of the issue here. Like, having Maori and non-Maori is as equally awkward / insulting as having Pakeha and non-Pakeha, or White and non-White.


Phil (Facilitator) Sun 3 May 2015 10:23PM

Great to hear these points of view.
It's important to remember that ethnicity is self identified, so census needs to record how people see themselves. There are many potential responses to the ethnicity question, but only limited space on the census form so the 'Other' please state category is important.
We looked at the ethnicity measure in 2009 in a review of the official ethnicity statistical standard, you can find this at http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/people_and_communities/Households/review-of-the-official-ethnicity-statistical-standard-2009.aspx
It's great to have people engaged in this important topic!


John Russell Sun 3 May 2015 10:24PM

The form, on Stats NZ site, 2013 Census form already allows us to mark more than one ethnic group, and there is room for us to add any missing.

For me, I'd like to see "New Zealand European' removed, and replaced with two others: 'New Zealander/Kiwi' and 'Pākehā', and I'd tick both!


Kate Mon 4 May 2015 3:57AM

Hi there, ethnicity is such a rich and valuable dataset and is so important for understanding the makeup of our country. It becomes a bit meaningless if everyone starts replying with "New Zealander" (as many did in the 2006 census). At a very basic level, census can show where (geographically) ethnic groups are located and concentrated. This is hugely beneficial data for councils, government, community groups, businesses etc. Some may not realise that ethnicity data is cross-tabulated with other census data (e.g. income data, age) and that different ethnic groups can have different needs. For example, we know that Maori and Pacific Peoples are much younger populations (median age 24 and 22 years respectively in 2013) than the NZ median (38 years in 2013) and that Europeans are older (median age 41 in 2013). Similarly with income data, we know from census that Maori and Pacific Peoples are over-represented in the lower income ranges. Imagine if the majority of people stated that they identified as "New Zealander"- it makes the data captured in the census of much less value and benefit. Please keep status quo!!


[deactivated account] Mon 4 May 2015 5:34AM

Which is why I keep saying that the question is conflating two separate things. Ethnicity is one thing. Socio-political nationhood is completely separate.


Mike Clement Thu 7 May 2015 1:42AM

@Kate identifying ourselves as New Zealanders isn't useless, it shows we have formed our own national identity and recognised that we are our own ethnic group.

Government policies should not be set on what race/ethnic group people are, they should be targeted at those who actually need them... and that information is better gained from more accurate socio-economic data.


Quentin Smith Fri 15 May 2015 7:44AM

Maybe I could tick other and write first generation Maori ;-)


Catherine Slobodian Sun 17 May 2015 9:57PM

I moved to New Zealand four years ago from Canada. There is no tickbox for Canadian, so I always choose other>and write Canadian. However, when I drill through data, I believe that Canadians are included in the European group. As Canadians we were always told to keep our culture but know that we are Canadian as well. All of my ancestors came from Ukraine (I am/was third generation Canadian) and to be honest you can't lump Canadians into the European category - so many are from Asia, Africa, etc..
Although I am an immigrant, I think it would be great if New Zealanders could identify as being New Zealanders! The birthplace question on the census is also helpful with identification. I believe that New Zealand is a pretty great place to be, and with the immigration policies in place, more and more people are going to come into the country and be diverse. This would be a good time to start recording a New Zealand Category rather than a New Zealand European category - how many more generations do you really want to have that association for?


Taryn Wade Thu 21 May 2015 1:18AM

Would it be simpler to split the question into race and ethnicity ?
Would race data (i.e. White,Asian, Polynesian etc) be more useful for health services ? While ethnicity/cultural affiliation (i.e. Maori , European etc. ) would be more useful for social/community services ? Possibly allowing people to have more than one ethnic group ? So instead of being "NZ European", you could tick both New Zealander + European if you feel your cultural identify is two sided ?.


Quentin Smith Thu 21 May 2015 1:28AM

Country of birth is relevant. ethnicity is completely 100% irrelevant to community/ social services. Those service should only be based on need not on race or ethnicity.

European is not in anyway reflective of my origin (recent) or my community or social needs.


Quentin Smith Thu 21 May 2015 1:31AM

maybe, it should be framed. what is your nationality? then where were you born? where were your parents born? that should be sufficient


Taryn Wade Thu 21 May 2015 1:56AM

Country of birth is already a question elsewhere in the census. However it only give you information regarding immigration. I was born in a different country to my parents who were in turn born in a different country to their parents. However we are all white, therefore my children are more likely to be born with cystic fibrosis than sickle cell anemia.


Tahu Kukutai Thu 21 May 2015 2:19AM

Why should the ethnicity classification be changed to accommodate the dominant group because they can't agree on what to call themselves? Some might say that this stems from a largely Pakeha/white/Euro/tauiwi/kiwi identity crisis. NZr is an identity that we should ALL be able to lay claim to by virtue of calling Aotearoa home. By ethnifying the term New Zealander, it becomes a social marker of difference. Who are the 'real' New Zealanders?


Phil (Facilitator) Thu 21 May 2015 3:06AM

Great to see these comments and points of view being expressed!
Ethnicity measures cultural affiliation rather than national identity, but as it's a measure of how people identify themselves the demarcations may not always be clear.
Ethnicity measures can be important in the design, delivery and monitoring of public policies, programmes and services.
Where do 'Kiwis' fit in this picture?


Ferguson Sun 31 May 2015 3:31AM

I think the "Asian" category is not very useful as "Asian" can mean Indian, Chinese, Filipino etc. Indian and Chinese I think have got to the point where they can have their separate category in the 2018/2023 census. So it should be Indian, Chinese and Other Asian.


Bruno L Mon 1 Jun 2015 10:19AM

The problem with the label "New Zealand European/Pakeha" is (for me at least) the inclusion of the words "European" and "Pakeha".

European is problematic because my cultural affiliation doesn't come specifically from Europe, it come's from my parents, who got there's from their parents, who got them from their parents, who got them from their parents, who got them from their parents, all of whom were born and raised in New Zealand from various backgrounds. Hence, there will be bits of British culture, bit's of Maori culture, bit of culture from many other groups, but crucially no one that dominates the others.

This is why I identify my cultural affiliation as "New Zealander", because it's a blend of various cultures that make up this country. And I suspect this is why so many others choose to use this as well. It's not trying to take away "New Zealander" as a culture from anybody else, or trying to lay claims as being "the one true New Zealanders" (whatever that is), simply a recognition that my self-identified culture is a blend of several different backgrounds that can't all be identified or labeled, and that has built up over the generations living in New Zealand.

The label pakeha doesn't work for me either, as that is simply a label of what I am not, not what I am. In the same way that "natives" is an imposed label that doesn't identify any particular group (but has been used for several globally at various times), Pakeha is a blanket label that is used to separate Maori from non-maori, without identifying what the other party actually is.

As an aside, how is using cultural identity as a way to target specific assistance in the community relevant? For example, in healthcare how is knowing that somebody identifies as culture X useful in knowing what medical needs they require (as opposed to knowing their genetic makeup, which is (or should be) a separate question entirely? How is knowing somebodies cultural affiliation a sound basis to know how big their family is likely to be (as opposed to simply looking at how big families are in a particular area, which is already recorded)?


Robert Didham (topic expert) Tue 2 Jun 2015 11:53PM

Thanks for the comment Bruno and explaining your reasoning behind your views. Your last aside raises some interesting questions. We do know that many diseases are associated with genetics and this implicates ancestry and not ethnicity. However many other health concerns are associated with socio-economic environments. The questions then are how correlated are ethnicities and genetic markers, and how do many other social and economic factors correlate with ethnicity. Health is of course only one place in which ethnic information has relevance. Along with many other dimensions such as language, birthplace, religion etc, ethnicity is an important aspect of people's identity and this contribute to other important social dimensions such as community and identifying needs and opportunities..


Phil (Facilitator) Wed 3 Jun 2015 12:38AM

What do others think?


Paul Callister Sun 7 Jun 2015 11:14PM

I have been reading all the comments in this stream of thought. The measurement of ethnicity is a complex issue with many opinions on it. Robert Didham and I have been exploring this issue for many years. This is my latest summary of my thinking on the topic and it covers a range of issues including the New Zealander issue.



Paul Callister Mon 8 Jun 2015 12:03AM

Adding another layer to this question of identity is genetic testing. I have just got my results back from the National Geographic project. So I am 43% Northern European, 38% Mediterranean and 18% Southwest Asian (and add in 1.7% Neanderthal) Do I put all those responses in the next census form? But culturally I am a New Zealander, not particularly relating to Europe (I haven’t been there for over 15 years. Do I put European and New Zealander? Does this tell much about my skin colour or my susceptibility to particular diseases. Or would a genetic test looking for particular health risk factors be better than relying on broad cultural groups?
For those interested in genetic tests and what surprises it might come up with see a good Youtube video by Anita Foeman.


Sophie Davies Mon 8 Jun 2015 3:57AM

Hi @paulcallister thanks for joining the conversation! - here's the working link to the first article you added in


Sue Tue 9 Jun 2015 4:41AM

e.g -I read recently that the US? census added 'Multiracial' to the Black and White options and the reaction was of immense relief for many. A choice between black and white perpetuates the racial divide whereas many people look white but have black forebears and conversely black people can have white forebears but their tick choice was based on colour only. As each individual ticked their black or white box they would not just be giving the govt statistics but reinforcing which side of the fence they were on. I'm not saying we are concerned with racial tensions here but by having options more indicative of the rapid and extensive blending of ethnicities world wide, people who think everyone of the opposite colour/race is anti them may feel more comfortable with themselves, relax more, let go some bitterness and get on with making the world a better place. What I am saying is that although the census is a tool for gathering statistics it is also an opportunity to reach each individual with a bit of social healing, not just in the ethnicity question but maybe others as well.


Paul Callister Tue 9 Jun 2015 6:33AM

In the New Zealand census respondents can already tick more than one box - or even add in other ethnicities - a small but significant number of respondents do record more than one response so could be seen as 'multiethnic'- the challenge then is how to report these responses. Statistics New Zealand has written much about the options for reporting these data - one is "total counts' - where people are counted in each group they record - some researchers do use the multiethnic data.


Phil Drane Tue 9 Jun 2015 10:41AM

My country of birth is England, so my nationality is officially English but my British passport states that my citizenship is British. I emigrated to New Zealand 27 years ago and became a New Zealand citizen 20 years ago and I have a New Zealand passport that states I am a New Zealand citizen. All of these are legally-defined identities assigned to me by the UK and NZ governments and I am happy to acknowledge them on the 2018 Census form.
The modern definition of ethnicity refers to self-perception and it allows us to identify the group or groups of people we would most naturally gravitate towards or identify with. This is a relatively new concept and one that, on the basis of comments on this page, is causing some confusion.
This confusion is compounded by the fact that UK and NZ Censuses use arbitrarily aggregated (and therefore false)ethnic groupings to satisfy the demands of politicians, government departments, businesses and officially recognised pressure groups. The Census forms in both countries are constructed to subtly encourage people to accept these aggregated 'ethnic' groups rather than their true ethnic group. One thing statisticians ignore in a Census is that it also serves the need, in a multi-cultural society, for each ethnic group (officially recognised or not) and its individual members to know how many others with the same ethnic identity exist in NZ.
I have always refused to accept that skin colour is a valid ethnic identifier and instead believe that it can only encourage colour prejudice. The England & Wales Census (2011) form clearly encouraged people like me to choose a White British ethnicity, and in the 2013 NZ Census form the only tick-box option on offer to me was "New Zealand European". I do not identify myself culturally (ethnically) as British, European or New Zealander.
Yes, there was a catch-all category "OTHER - such as DUTCH, JAPANESE, TOKELAUAN. Please state." but given that New Zealand is now committed to "multiculturalism" this should be presented in a way that ensures that each community is given the option and respect to uniquely identify itself.
The language used in mainstream television, press and advertising is often oppressively mono-cultural, insisting that the only people who live in NZ are 'Kiwis'. The phrase "100% Kiwi" is bandied about freely but never explained. This in a multi-cultural society where new immigrants (now approaching 1 million) have been invited to live here without having to become culturally assimilated. This kind double-speak should not be encouraged in the Census.
My core cultural identity is, and always will be, English and I have come across anti-English antipathy a lot in my time in New Zealand. However since multiculturalism was formally introduced this has waned dramatically and by 2018 I may well be tempted to tick the "Other" box and then type in not "English" but "Anglo-Kiwi".
I believe the Census form should be changed to positively encourage everyone who is not Dutch, Japanese or Tokelauan to identify their true, unique ethnic identity. This would be a true reflection of how multicultural New Zealand really is.


Paul Callister Tue 9 Jun 2015 8:07PM

As Phil says aggregation in reportage is a problem. While the individual responses are recorded and are available for research, in most reportage and analysis if one puts English you become European, if one puts Japanese you become Asian and if you put Tongan you become Pacific. The only response which remains the same at all levels of reportage is Maori. The trouble is, as Phil notes, most people cant deal with the huge complexity of ethnic responses. Its why we even get down to overly simplistic comparisons such as Maori and non-Maori. Census does allow fine disaggregation of data but other surveys have too small samples for such breakdowns.


David Lane Wed 17 Jun 2015 6:34AM

I agree with Kate. 'It becomes a bit meaningless if everyone starts replying with “New Zealander” (as many did in the 2006 census). At a very basic level, census can show where (geographically) ethnic groups are located and concentrated. Imagine if the majority of people stated that they identified as “New Zealander”- it makes the data captured in the census of much less value and benefit.' Personally I am appalled by this "New Zealander" category because it ruins the validity of the statistical data with a category that anyone of any ethnicity can tick. I am Pakeha. Not Maori, Pacific Islander, Asian or anything else. What on earth is a "New Zealander"? Surely everyone who lives in Aotearoa is a New Zealander - which makes it meaningless.


Quentin Smith Wed 17 Jun 2015 6:57AM

maybe, but one thing for certain is that i aint european. i am not from europe nor do i associate with being european. But given you can now get off when caught driving without a license i think i will have to tick maori.


Bruno L Wed 17 Jun 2015 8:54AM

But surely anyone can already tick any ethnicity already? And as mentioned in the introduction, ethnicity is tied to cultural affiliation (something that is self-perceived), which is not the same thing as a person’s biological background.

I note David's comments where he states that an answer of 'New Zealander' ruins the validity of statistical data, as if all respondents must be able to split themselves into a specified, pre-approved category for the benefit of a particular statistical model. The problem is, real life simply doesn’t work like that.

For myself I've listed above why the label Pākehā doesn't work for me (a label of what a person isn't, not what they are). And I’ve explained why the ‘European’ part of ‘New Zealand European’ also doesn’t work. But with no other suitable place to list myself, the best options for me are either ‘New Zealander’ or to simply abstain from answering altogether (although an 'object' box similar to the religion question would work better here the final decision is to retain the status quo).

Here’s an idea to pull apart or make stronger. Allow ‘New Zealander’ to be an option. If a person’s self-perceived cultural affiliation (ie ethnicity) includes feeling that they are part of this group, allow them to tick it. If they don’t, then the tick box is left blank.

If the person feels that their self-perceived cultural affiliation is a combination of Maori & New Zealander (which I would expect to be pretty common, let’s be fair) then that person can tick both Maori AND New Zealander. If their self-perceived cultural affiliation is that they are a combination of Taiwanese and New Zealander, then that person can tick both. If one parent’s self-perceived cultural affiliation is a combination was Japanese and Tongan, and the other was Welsh and Spanish, the child might perceive their ethnicity to be all of the above, some of the above, or if they have spent most of their life in New Zealand, their self-perceived cultural affiliation may simply be New Zealander. See where I’m going with this?

I can’t see how this would cause problems breaking to model – after all, respondents can already choose multiple self-perceived ethnicities. And it would allow for the reflection of a shared ethnicity (remember: we’re talking self-perceived cultural affiliation here, not race), whilst also allowing for people where this is their only affiliation.


Phil Drane Wed 17 Jun 2015 10:05AM

If the New Zealand Government and Statistics NZ require New Zealanders to properly respond to a census question then it is their responsibility to ensure that the question itself is completely unambiguous. In my view the recently-revised definition of ethnicity (that of cultural identity and self-perception, as noted at the top of this page) has never been sufficiently understood or embraced by the general population for the question "What is your ethnicity?" to be credibly included in the Census questionnaire. I myself found the examples given in the 2013 Census notes decidedly difficult to grasp.


Phil Drane Wed 17 Jun 2015 10:16AM

I would like to add one other thing without wishing to further confuse things. It is wrong to believe that everyone who lives and works in New Zealand must be a New Zealander. After all. many thousands of New Zealanders live and work in the UK permanently but would not call themselves 'British' on a census form. Permanent residency allows foreigners to live here without ever becoming New Zealanders, and in theory multiculturalism supports the concept of immigration without integration.


Daniel Miller Thu 18 Jun 2015 4:27AM

I don't believe we need to ask the ethnicity question at all. The basis of racial equality is that all races are the same, so what is the point of collecting information when each group is the same? By asking this question, you are essentially making the statement that there are differences or inequalities between ethnicities that make it worth collecting the information.


Bruno L Thu 18 Jun 2015 6:51AM

Phil, I do agree with you that this particular definition of ethnicity isn't well understood - either by the people completing the question or (I strongly suspect) a large number of people and organisations using the data. Until making my first comment on this forum those people that didn't entirely understand it included myself.

The fact that the question used to be specifically about race, and has morphed into one about cultural identity and self-perception doesn't make it any easier. And from casual discussions I've had I know a large number of people simply assume (as did I) that ethnicity is simply a euphemism for race.


Kay Thu 18 Jun 2015 8:34AM

Ethnic heritage and country of origin both have implications for health issues. For example people born in Zimbabwe and now living in New Zealand - regardless of their ethnic heritage - are more likely to be HIV positive than people born in New Zealand. Similarly some cancers are more prevalent to people of particular genetic heritage e.g. melanomas and people of white Anglo-Saxon heritage. Other health issues may have an environmental cause linked to cultural or social patterns e.g. Maori youth being more likely to smoke than Pakeha youth, and new migrants and students from China including Hong Kong being more likely to smoke than people of Chinese heritage born in New Zealand.

Culture may have other implications but is less easily defined.

If behaviour such as smoking is linked to a particular social group (and health research shows that it is) then data on the size of such groups can help with planning health campaigns etc.


Phil Drane Thu 18 Jun 2015 10:48AM

I understand and agree Bruno and I was similarly confused five years ago until I researched the outcome of the 2011 UK Census. In that census the results were perverted by a general misunderstanding of what ethnicity actually means, poorly defined and badly-aggregated ethnic groups, and the skewed nature of the census forms themselves. This resulted in a situation (by accident or design) where the majority of people in Scotland were allowed to select "Scottish" ethnicity, while the majority in England were denied the opportunity to select 'English' ethnicity. Instead their responses were arbitrarily aggregated to 'British' ethnicity. The fact remains then that as far as the British Government and UK Statistics Office are concerned people with an English cultural identity no longer exist in England, and for the next ten years at least they will be excluded from all cultural, arts, ethnic and community funding. The danger here in New Zealand is that unless we all understand what ethnicity means, why this data is being collected and what it is going to be used for, we might just end up with more problems than solutions. Open debate such as this is badly needed.


Kay Thu 18 Jun 2015 1:32PM

Another research finding on ethnic differences influencing susceptibility to illnesses. Dr Chambers' 25 year research project identifies genetic differences. "Dr Chambers says the findings highlight an existing inequity in medical treatment. “Medicine today is an increasingly genetic field of knowledge,” he says. “Many new drugs have been developed by Europeans for Europeans, but if we are to deliver these advances effectively to Māori and Pasifika people then we need new information, which we must uncover ourselves. This requires knowing something about their genetic make-up.”

Statistics New Zealand should quantify the size of the groups affected, which could help with planning further medical research.


Phil Drane Thu 18 Jun 2015 8:51PM

Hi Kay. I can understand why genetic information is important in research and the targeting of effective treatment to specific groups of people, but the definition of ethnicity has changed. As defined on this website and on the 2013 & 2108 Census Form, ethnicity is no longer solely related to race or genetics but to personal preference and self-perception. This suggests that Census responses re. ethnicity can no longer be relied on as a genetics indicator.


Paul Callister Thu 18 Jun 2015 9:23PM

So we have many concepts being discussed.

There is country of birth - in the past that might have told one something about a person's race, ethnicity or ancestry (whatever we want to call it) - but increasingly that doesn't tell us much - for example British Asians migrate to New Zealand, people are moving all the round the world, intermarrying, mixing it all up.

The we have race, which some people still take about in New Zealand but, for a whole set of good reasons, is a concept social social scientists have moved away from. Yet we have a "Race Relations' Office and politicians often talk about playing the race card.

Then there is ancestry. Ancestry is a slippery concept. How far does one go back? (all the way to Africa - listen to Kim Hill tomorrow about that) Do we have complete knowledge of our ancestry? Ancestries get dropped along the way, and sometimes they get rediscovered. In New Zealand statistics we only ask about Maori ancestry.

Then there is ethnicity. More or less cultural affiliation. But for most people somewhat influenced by ancestry (but with all the problems of above). The ethnicity data shows lots of mixing - many people reporting more than one ethnic group.

Then it seems there are some situations where it doesn't matter what you think your identity is – it matters what others think you are – one can think of landlords – or the police pulling one over. Of as written about in the Herald yesterday lending to Maori. This will be based on ‘visible difference’ such as skin colour, or in terms of being pulled over whether one wears a cap back to front and drives a Subaru imprezza etc. Rachel Dolezel (the women in the US claiming to be African American) is finding that it is not what she thinks she is that matters, its what other people think.

Then there are other situations where it doesn't matter what you think you identity is – it only matters what scientific testing tells your doctors about compatibility for transplants etc - or proving through a DNA test to the Family Court that the child you are paying maintenance for belongs to someone else. And it doesnt matter if you are simply from a group such as European, you have to get down to individual DNA tests.

The genetic tests also show lots of mixing between 'races'. So that complicates any idea of 'race based medicine'

Then in NZ there are situations where ‘provable’ ancestry matters – such as belonging to an iwi, getting a scholarship or being eligible to vote in a Maori seat, else. But this ancestry information is not good enough for transplants, the Family Court etc.

ethnicity matters much less in daily life and public policy – it might matter lots for some individuals in terms of how they feel about themselves but for many others it just one part of identity – group measures give some idea of how a set of loosely bounded people are doing – but often the analysis is at such a high level it doesn't really tell one much (for example the Maori/non-Maori comparison). It can lead indirectly to a bit of funding through the health sector but not much else.

So lots of opportunities for people to talk past each other.


Phil Drane Thu 18 Jun 2015 11:21PM

Paul. Sadly in the areas you mention, which are highly personal and emotive for a large proportion of the general public, the picture you paint is one of complete confusion. The first step surely is for politicians, statisticians and other data users to come up with a clear definition of each 'indicator' and an explanation as to why the data is needed, who needs it, and what it is being used for. Only when the reasoning behind the Census question becomes apparent will individuals know how to properly respond. To date there has been little compelling reason to include the ethnicity question, which in the 2011 UK census for instance became something of a political football.


Phil (Facilitator) Mon 22 Jun 2015 2:59AM

There’s been some great discussion in this thread so far! I just want to encourage anyone who wishes to, please take advantage of our formal submission process before our engagement and consultation closes. All the discussions on loomio will be formally assessed but sending in a formal submission adds weight to your perspective on what census needs to do, or change, to meet information needs around measurement of ethnicity.