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Classifications and related standards

A statistical classification is a way to group a set of related categories in a meaningful, systematic, and standard format. A statistical standard provides a comprehensive set of guidelines for surveys and administrative sources collecting information on a particular topic (Statistics NZ, nd).

See Classifications and related standards.

New Zealand statistical classifications and standards are designed for use across official statistics collections, both for Statistics NZ and other agencies. Statistical standards allow us to collect reliable statistics using consistent procedures. If we follow these standards, we can integrate data over time and across different data sources.

Māori ethnicity

The New Zealand Statistical Standard for Ethnicity defines ethnicity as follows:

Ethnicity is the ethnic group or groups that people identify with or feel they belong to. Ethnicity is a measure of cultural affiliation, as opposed to race, ancestry, nationality or citizenship. Ethnicity is self-perceived and people can belong to more than one ethnic group.

The 2005 standard classification of ethnicity is a hierarchical classification of four levels. ‘Māori’ is a single ethnicity appearing at all levels of the classification – level 1 has six categories, including Māori.

The presence of multiple ethnicities for the same person means there are two standard outputs for ethnicity data.

  • Total response output shows the total counts of all responses given for each ethnic group. The number of total responses will be greater than the total population as individuals can appear in more than one ethnic group.
  • Single/combination output places each person into only one category depending on the combination of ethnic groups reported; for example Māori only, or Māori and European.

The distinction between reporting Māori as the sole ethnicity, and people also identifying as belonging to other ethnic groups is important for understanding Māori ethnicity.

Māori descent

'Māori descent' is based on a genealogical or biological concept, rather than on cultural affiliation (as ethnicity is). The statistical standard defines Māori descent as: “A person has Māori descent if they are of the Māori race of New Zealand; this includes any descendant of such a person.”

The classification for Māori descent has two main categories: 'Māori descent' and 'No Māori descent', plus residual categories ('don’t know', 'refused to answer' and so on).


The statistical standard for iwi is also based on genealogical or biological concepts. The standard definition is:
The Iwi today is the focal economic and political unit of the traditional Māori descent and kinship based hierarchy of:

Waka (founding canoe)
Iwi (tribe)
Hapū (sub-tribe)
Whānau (family).

Thus membership of an iwi first requires a person to be of Māori descent. As with ethnicity, the iwi standard states that multiple response should be expected when collecting iwi information. Since many people do not know their iwi, the standard advises that a ‘don’t know’ tick box option should be provided.

The iwi classification used by Statistics NZ included 128 iwi categories in 2015. The classification is prepared for statistical purposes only and is not intended to be a definitive list of all iwi. The criteria for including an iwi in the classification are complex and include historical, economic, and political considerations.


The standard classification of language is a hierarchical classification of three levels. Māori appears at Level 3 of the classification, within Central Pacific languages.

There is no standard concept or definition for collecting information on language proficiency. Census provides information on spoken language. The Te Kupenga survey obtains more detail on respondents’ ability to speak, listen, read, and write in te reo Māori.

Figure 1 illustrates the relationships between the populations identified by these four variables. Information about te reo is collected for all New Zealand residents, and is not limited to those of Māori ethnicity or descent.

Figure 1
Relationship between Māori ethnicity, Māori descent, and iwi affiliation

Image, Relationship between Māori ethnicity, Māori descent, and iwi affiliation.


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