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Ethnic Group

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ethnic diversity
Collecting data on ethnic group is complex because of the subjective, multifaceted and changing nature of ethnic identification. There is no consensus on what constitutes an ethnic group and membership is something that is self-defined and subjectively meaningful to the person concerned.

The terminology used to describe ethnic groups has changed markedly over time and however defined or measured, tends to evolve in the context of social and political attitudes or developments. Ethnic group is also very diverse, encompassing common ancestry and elements of culture, identity, religion, language and physical appearance.

This guidance highlights some of the complexities that need to be considered when collecting and classifying data on ethnic group. In the main, it provides advice on how to ask questions on ethnic group and how to present data from surveys using the recommended harmonised country specific questions for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The are some differences in the questions due to the requirements of the constituent countries and where this has implications for producing GB and UK outputs, these issues are highlighted. 

It is recognised that not all GB or UK wide surveys will have the resources required to ask different questions in different countries.  In these rare situations it is recommended that the England and Wales question be used in Scotland. When this choice is made, a full UK and GB output can be produced.

For guidance on data presentation please refer to the related link

What is the recommended harmonised ethnic group question to use on surveys?

The recommended ethnic group question for use on surveys came out of a two year cross-government consultation programme that wanted to harmonise data collection to enable consistency and comparability of data. It is recommended that the following question be used

‘What is your ethnic group?’

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What is a 'self-identification' measure of ethnic group?

In a survey respondents are invited to select, from a list of categories, the ethnic group to which they consider they belong. There appear to be two factors determining the ethnic group that is recorded for each respondent:

  • their own choice of how they view their own ethnicity, and

  • the list of options are presented to them.

The first consideration is the most straightforward; the ethnic group that each person chooses as his or her own is intrinsically the ethnic group of self-identity, rather than being ascribed by anyone else.

The second consideration is apparently not so clear-cut. The ethnic group options presented to the respondent are not completely ones of self-identity, since the respondent is likely to have had no say in the names or the number of the different alternative ethnic groups presented to them. Therefore, the freedom the respondent has to select their own group is constrained and influenced by the options presented to them.

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Why have categories?

A category is used to assign data reported or measured for a particular situation according to shared characteristics.  We use them to ensure consistent description and comparison of statistics. In practice, it is a set of ‘boxes’ into which items can be put in order to get some kind of meaning. 

Categories allow us, in an accurate and systematic way, to arrange our data according to common features, so that the resulting statistics can be easily reproduced and able to be compared over time and between different sources.

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Why are there differences in the ethnic group response categories?

When collecting GB or UK data, the format of the question will vary slightly depending on whether data is being collected in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. Each of the constituent countries has different requirements which have led in some instances to the use of different terminology and different questions. Therefore, if producing outputs for surveys with GB or UK coverage and using the Scotland harmonised country specific questions, response categories can only be aggregated and presented at the main level category (due to the variations in the questions being asked).

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What are the differences in the ethnic group response categories?

The main differences in the ethnic group response categories are:

  • White categories (excluding Traveller categories): Scotland separates Scottish from Other British and includes separate Irish and Polish categories; England and Wales combine UK and British categories but include a separate Irish category; Northern Ireland has one White category.

  • Traveller categories: In Northern Ireland Irish Traveller is a main category separate from White; Scotland has a Gypsy/Traveller category and England and Wales have a Gypsy or Irish Traveller category.

  • Mixed Multiple Ethnic Groups: There is no category breakdown for the country specific question in Scotland, there are no suggested categories as opposed to the other countries where there are options.

  • There are some differences in the terminology and data collection of the country specific Scotland question that make these categories difficult to compare. The African category in the Scottish question is presented in a separate section to the Caribbean or Black category, however under the harmonised output these two categories are output as part of ‘Black/African/Caribbean/Black British’.  The African categories used in Scotland could potentially capture White/Asian/Other African in addition to Black identities.

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What are the implications for a GB and UK output when using the country specific questions?

When collecting GB or UK data, the format of the question will vary slightly depending on whether the data is being collected in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. Since each of the constituent countries has different requirements, the use of different terminology and different questions is unavoidable to ensure that data from surveys are comparable with those from their Censuses. Therefore, if producing outputs for surveys with GB or UK coverage and using the Scotland harmonised country specific questions, response categories should be aggregated and presented at the main level category and it will be necessary to explain differences in footnotes (see data presentation for details).

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What instruction should be used when asking the ethnic group question in a face to face interviewer led survey and self completion survey?

  • It is recommended that the ethnic group question will be asked in a way that allows the respondent to see all possible response options before making their decision. Therefore, in face-to-face interviewer-led surveys, a single show card should be used which presents all response options. The interviewer should then ask the respondent to select the option that best describes their ethnic group or background. Similarly, a self-completion survey (e.g. paper-based) should use a single question.

  • The instruction 'please describe' should follow the 'Other' response options.  This should be in non-bold font. These instructions should also be included on paper-based surveys.

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What is the recommended ethnic group question for use on a survey in England?

Below is the recommended country specific ethnic group question for use in England. This question is recommended when a show card is used in a face-to-face interview or self-completion survey (both paper and electronic).

 

Applies to all

Interviewer to read:

What is your ethnic group?

Choose one option that best describes your ethnic group or background

White

1. English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish / British
2. Irish
3. Gypsy or Irish Traveller
4. Any other White background, please describe

Mixed / Multiple ethnic groups

5. White and Black Caribbean
6. White and Black African
7. White and Asian
8. Any other Mixed / Multiple ethnic background, please describe

Asian / Asian British

9. Indian
10. Pakistani
11. Bangladeshi
12. Chinese
13. Any other Asian background, please describe

Black / African / Caribbean / Black British

14. African
15. Caribbean
16. Any other Black / African / Caribbean background, please describe

Other ethnic group

17. Arab
18. Any other ethnic group, please describe

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What is the recommended ethnic group question for use on a survey in Wales?

Below is the recommended country specific ethnic group question for use in Wales. This question is recommended when a show card is used in a face-to-face interview or self-completion survey (both paper and electronic).

Applies to all

Interviewer to read:

What is your ethnic group?

Choose one option that best describes your ethnic group or background

White

1. Welsh / English / Scottish / Northern Irish / British
2. Irish
3. Gypsy or Irish Traveller
4. Any other White background, please describe

Mixed / Multiple ethnic groups

5. White and Black Caribbean
6. White and Black African
7. White and Asian
8. Any other Mixed / Multiple ethnic background, please describe

Asian / Asian British

9. Indian
10. Pakistani
11. Bangladeshi
12. Chinese
13. Any other Asian background, please describe

Black / African / Caribbean / Black British

14. African
15. Caribbean
16. Any other Black / African / Caribbean background, please describe

Other ethnic group

17. Arab
18. Any other ethnic group, please describe
 

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What is the recommended ethnic group question for use on a survey in Scotland?

Below is the recommended country specific ethnic group question for use in Scotland. This question is recommended when a show card is used in a face-to-face interview or self-completion survey (both paper and electronic). This question has been developed to enable direct comparison with the Scottish Census and other sources in Scotland.

Applies to all

Interviewer to read:

What is your ethnic group?

Choose one option that best describes your ethnic group or background

White

1. Scottish
2. Other British
3. Irish
4. Gypsy/Traveller
5. Polish
6. Any other White ethnic group, please describe

Mixed or Multiple ethnic groups

7. Any Mixed or Multiple ethnic groups, please describe

Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British

8. Pakistani, Pakistani Scottish or Pakistani British
9. Indian, Indian Scottish or Indian British
10. Bangladeshi, Bangladeshi Scottish or Bangladeshi British
11. Chinese, Chinese Scottish or Chinese British
12. Any other Asian, please describe

African

13. African, African Scottish or African British
14. Any other African, please describe

Caribbean or Black

15. Caribbean, Caribbean Scottish or Caribbean British
16. Black, Black Scottish or Black British
17. Any other Caribbean or Black, please describe

Other ethnic group

18. Arab, Arab Scottish or Arab British
19. Any other ethnic group, please describe

Note: When producing outputs for surveys with GB or UK coverage it is only possible to harmonise with the rest of GB or UK at the top level category. Footnotes should be included to explain the differences in the data collection.

Where it is not feasible to ask the recommended country specific Scotland ethnic group question, the recommended question for England and Wales should be used. Ensure that the Scottish option is first in the response categories. See below;

Applies to all

Interviewer to read:

What is your ethnic group?

Choose one option that best describes your ethnic group or background

White

1. Scottish / English / Welsh /  Northern Irish / British
2. Irish
3. Gypsy or Irish Traveller
4. Any other White background, please describe

Mixed / Multiple ethnic groups

5. White and Black Caribbean
6. White and Black African
7. White and Asian
8. Any other Mixed / Multiple ethnic background, please describe

Asian / Asian British

9. Indian
10. Pakistani
11. Bangladeshi
12. Chinese
13. Any other Asian background, please describe

Black / African / Caribbean / Black British

14. African
15. Caribbean
16. Any other Black / African / Caribbean background, please describe

Other ethnic group

17. Arab
18. Any other ethnic group, please describe

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What is the recommended ethnic group question for use on a survey in Northern Ireland?

Below is the recommended country specific ethnic group question for Northern Ireland. This question is recommended when a show card is used in a face-to-face interview or self-completion survey both paper and electronic.

Note that the harmonised ethnic group question for Northern Ireland is different to that used in the 2011 Census of Population in Northern Ireland. The Census question had fewer categories although the harmonised question aggregates to the same categories. Census Office took a conscious decision not to use terminology such as "British black", as it was felt this would have needed to be counterbalanced with "Irish black" in a Northern Ireland context. With limited space, Census Office omitted this terminology.

Applies to all

Interviewer to read:

What is your ethnic group?

Choose one option that best describes your ethnic group or background

1. White
2. Irish Traveller

Mixed / Multiple ethnic groups

3. White and Black Caribbean
4. White and Black African
5. White and Asian
6. Any other Mixed / Multiple ethnic background, please describe

Asian / Asian British

7. Indian
8. Pakistani
9. Bangladeshi
10. Chinese
11. Any other Asian background, please describe

Black / African / Caribbean / Black British

12. African
13. Caribbean
14. Any other Black / African / Caribbean background, please describe

Other ethnic group

15. Arab
16. Any other ethnic group, please describe

 

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What instruction should be used when asking the ethnic group question on telephone surveys?

  • The use of a show card is not possible on the telephone, therefore the question should be asked in two stages due to its length. The recommended stages are presented below as part 1 and part 2.

  • The interviewer should use the word ‘or’ after each response option in parts 1 and 2 of the two-stage question. A pause in speech should be used to indicate a forward slash (/). For Scotland ‘or’ is used instead of a forward slash.

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What are the harmonised country specific ethnic group questions recommended for telephone surveys?

Ethnic group question for telephone interview (as applied on the LFS)

PART 1
ETH11
Applies to all

Interviewer to read:
What is your ethnic group?

I will read out the options, choose one option that best describes your ethnic group or background

In England and Wales  

Interviewer to read options:

1. White, or
2.Mixed/ Multiple ethnic groups, or
3. Asian/ Asian British, or
4. Black/ African/ Caribbean/ Black British, or
5. Chinese, or
6. Arab, or
7. Other ethnic group

In Scotland

Interviewer to read options:

1. White or
2. Mixed or Multiple Ethnic group, or
3. Asian or Asian Scottish or Asian British, or
4. African or
5. Caribbean or Black or
6. Arab or
7. Other ethnic group 

In Northern Ireland

Interviewer to read options:

1. White, or
2. Irish Traveller, or
3. Mixed/ Multiple ethnic groups, or
4. Asian/ Asian British, or
5. Black/ African/ Caribbean/ Black British, or
6. Chinese, or
7. Arab, or
8. Other ethnic group

PART 2
Interviewer to read:
And which one of these best describes your ethnic group or background?
ETHNIC-WHITE (ETHWH)

Applies if ETH11=1 in England

Interviewer to read options:

1. English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish / British, or
2. Irish, or
3. Gypsy or Irish Traveller, or    
4. Any other White background?

Applies if ETH11=1 in Wales

Interviewer to read options:

1. Welsh / English / Scottish / Northern Irish / British, or
2. Irish, or
3. Gypsy or Irish Traveller, or    
4. Any other White background?

Applies if ETH11=1 in Scotland

Interviewer to read options:

1. Scottish or
2. Other British or
3. Irish or
4. Gypsy/Traveller or
5. Polish or
6. Any other white ethnic group?

ETHNIC- MIXED (ETHMX)

Applies if ETH11=2  in England, Wales or 3  in Northern Ireland

Interviewer to read options:

1. White and Black Caribbean, or   
2. White and Black African, or
3. White and Asian, or
4. Any other mixed / multiple ethnic background?

ETHNIC- ASIAN (ETHAS)
Applies if ETH11=3 in England or Wales or 4 in Northern Ireland

Interviewer to read options:

1. Indian, or
2. Pakistani, or
3. Bangladeshi, or
4. Any other Asian background?

Applies if ETH11=3 in Scotland

Interviewer to read options:

1. Pakistani, Pakistani Scottish or Pakistani British or
2. Indian, Indian Scottish or Indian British or
3. Bangladeshi, Bangladeshi Scottish or Bangladeshi British or
4. Chinese, Chinese Scottish or Chinese British or
5. Any other Asian group

ETHNIC-BLACK (ETHBL)
Applies if ETH11=4 in England or Wales or 5 in Northern Ireland

Interviewer to read options:

1. African, or      
2. Caribbean, or
3. Any other Black / African / Caribbean background?

ETHNIC- AFRICAN (ETHAF) SCOTLAND ONLY
Applies if ETH11=4 in Scotland

Interviewer to read options:

1. African, African Scottish or African British or
2. Any other African group?

ETHNIC-CARIBBEAN (ETHCB) SCOTLAND ONLY
Applies if ETH11=5 in Scotland

Interviewer to read options:

1. Caribbean, Caribbean Scottish or Caribbean British or
2. Black, Black Scottish or Black British or
3. Any other Caribbean or Black group?

ETHNIC-OTHER (ETHOTH)
Applies if ETH11=7 in England, Wales or Scotland, or ETH11=8 in Northern Ireland
Or for England, Wales and Northern Ireland
ETHWH=4
Or ETHMX=4
Or ETHAS=5
Or ETHBL=3
Or for Scotland where
ETHWH=6
Or ETHAS=5
Or ETHAF=2
Or ETHCB=3

Interviewer to read:

Please can you describe your ethnic group or background?

Record respondent’s answer

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What about the ‘Other’ category?

The list of ethnic group categories provided in the recommended questions are the result of extensive consultation and testing but they are by no means definitive and they do not capture all ethnic diversity in the UK. For this reason, a write-in option for each high level category is made available under ‘Any Other’. The write-in option is a very important category for the acceptability of the question and response rates.  

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What if more ethnic group categories are needed?

Categories within the recommended ethnic group questions are the result of extensive consultation and testing and by no means capture all ethnic diversity within the UK. The categories are designed to enable the majority of the population to identify themselves in a manageable way and as a result it is restricted to those groups that make up the majority of the population. The length of this is not intended to exclude any groups of the population but rather to prevent the ethnic data collection from becoming overly complex and confusing while ensuring the majority of the population can record themselves accurately.

Whilst the measurement of ethnic group must take into account practical issues surrounding data collection and presentation, if categories are not sufficient, for some authorities it might be necessary to expand the ‘Other’ category/categories to take into account local needs. This might result in a longer classification that will allow for identification of many groups, however, caution is required with analysis of such numbers (to ensure reliability and to avoid disclosure). If figures produced are too small to publish then they can be suppressed or it might be more suitable to aggregate to the relevant ‘Other’ category.

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Content from the Office for National Statistics.
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