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Review of the Official Ethnicity Statistical Standard 2009
Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the outcomes of the review?

There are three main outcomes:
1) More flexibility in statistical reporting to allow the ‘New Zealander’ group to be presented with the ‘New Zealand European’ group or separately from it.
2) Improved communication by agencies about the purpose of collecting ethnic data.
3) No change to the ethnicity question. This is to ensure measurement consistency over time and across collections. 

2. Why don't you recommend or include a ‘New Zealander’ tick-box in the census?

That would change the meaning of the question, and the information we produce wouldn't be useful to the people who need it to help make important decisions. For example, monitoring improvements in the health of Māori people.

Including a ‘New Zealander’ tick-box puts more emphasis on nationality, rather than ethnicity. The ethnicity information we gather is used to monitor change over time – if we change the question, we risk changing the quality of the information.

3. What did your research and testing about a ‘New Zealander’ tick-box show?

The research and testing showed variable results that were not conclusive enough to warrant changing the question. Some respondents consider ‘New Zealander’ to be a legitimate response, and one that warrants a tick-box. However, others think it refers to national rather than ethnic identity, and would find its inclusion as a tick-box confusing, thereby changing the meaning of the question.

If it was included as a tick-box, more respondents would use it; some to report their ethnic identity, and others their national identity. Some of those using it to report their national identity might not report their ethnic identity, which would adversely affect the quality of the ethnic population counts.

4. What do you say to New Zealanders who feel that they do not belong?

People can write ‘New Zealander’ down and it will be counted. The ‘New Zealander’ response is treated as a legitimate ethnic identity response. All persons who report this response in the census are classified to a ‘New Zealander’ category in the ethnicity classification.

5. Aren't you being biased against the ‘average’ New Zealander?

There is no ‘average’ New Zealander from an ethnic viewpoint. New Zealand is ethnically diverse. While over half of the population identify ethnically as New Zealand European, over one-sixth are Māori, and over a quarter identify with a variety of other ethnic groups, including ‘New Zealander’.

6. Isn't this biased toward Māori, Pacific Island, and Asian people?

The census ethnic question is designed to get an accurate count of all of New Zealand's ethnic groups.

7. Why was the ethnicity question being reviewed?

During the 2006 Census, there was much debate about ethnicity, including a public campaign for the inclusion of a ‘New Zealander’ tick-box in the census ethnicity question.

Given the level of public concern and the need to ensure the ongoing usefulness of information collected in the census, Statistics New Zealand decided to review the ethnicity measure through research and consultation.

8. How was the review done?

Statistics NZ undertook a programme of research, and consulted with key stakeholders during 2008. In April 2009, Statistics NZ published a discussion paper and invited public feedback. More than 180 responses were received on that paper, and a final report of the findings will be published in October 2009.

9. What was in the research programme?

a) A statistical profile of people who reported themselves as ‘New Zealander’ at the 2006 Census.
b) A comparison of responses that people gave to the ethnicity question at the 2001 and 2006 Censuses, to ascertain patterns of changes in responses.
c) Testing of options for the ethnicity question in the census.
d) Investigating public attitudes to, and understandings of, ethnicity statistics.

10. What did the statistical profile show?

Compared to the total population, people who reported themselves as ‘New Zealanders’ are on average a little older, more likely to be male, more likely to be born in New Zealand, have higher incomes and higher educational attainment, and less likely to be of Māori descent.

11. What did the comparison of the 2001 and 2006 Censuses show?

While over 90 percent of the growth of ‘New Zealander’ respondents in 2006 came from people who reported that they were ‘New Zealand European’ in 2001, contributions from the Māori, Pacific, and Asian groups reduced these populations by 0.9 percent to 2.0 percent between the two censuses.

12. What did the question testing show?

The inclusion of a tick-box for ‘New Zealander’ would increase the number of people who used this response. Adding a question on national identity did not appear to have any notable effect on the way people answered the ethnicity question.

13. What did the public attitudes and understanding research show?

The research showed that, in general, the public understood what ‘ethnicity’ means according to official statistics. Some people said they preferred to call themselves ‘New Zealander’. However, most people understood that this was a national identity, rather than an ethnic identity.

There was a general level of support for government collecting information about ethnicity for planning purposes; for example, funding or placement of health services. But the research showed a need for more and better communication from agencies about how the information is actually used.

14. What did the public feedback show?

Statistics New Zealand received over 180 submissions from individuals and organisations.

Some of the issues and suggestions raised included:
• concern that there is no census ethnicity question response option that is suitable for people who have lived in New Zealand for many generations, and who have no or little affinity with Europe
• support for the ‘New Zealander’ response, in preference to ‘New Zealand European’ or ‘Pakeha’
• support for the ‘New Zealand European’ or ‘Pakeha’ responses, in preference to ‘New Zealander’
• concern about the statistical impact of the ‘New Zealander’ response on other ethnic groups
• suggestion to change the definition to focus more on ancestral descent
• suggestion to develop a consultative process to review future changes to ethnic categories.

15. What is ethnicity?

Ethnicity refers to cultural identity based around commonly held values and beliefs. It is important because it may affect people’s preferences, and sometimes their behaviours. Examples of how we define our ethnicity are ancestry, cultural roots, geographic region of origin, common name, and religion.

16. What is national identity?

 National identity refers to how people identify themselves nationally. Most countries will have one dominant national identity (eg, New Zealander), but may have a variety of ethnicities (eg, New Zealand European, Māori, Pacific peoples, Chinese, Indian).

17. Why is the collection of ethnicity statistics important?

Ethnicity statistics are important in New Zealand because the ethnic diversity of our population is reflected strongly in our public policies. Our planning processes at national and local levels recognise that different ethnic groups may have different needs. We take account of ethnic differences in public policies and programmes (along with other factors), to ensure fair access to all, and to minimise discrimination.

18. What does the ethnicity question in the census look like?

This is the question used in the 2006 Census of Population and Dwellings. Questions used in other official collections are similar to this.

Question from Census, Which ethnic group to you belong to?

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