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National Identity

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national identity
National identity is a measure of self-identity reflecting the subjective nature of national identity. A question on national identity allows a person to express a preference as to which country or countries, nation or nations that they feel most affiliated to.

There has been an increasing interest in 'national’ consciousness and many people wanting acknowledgement of their national identity. In response a recommended harmonised 'national identity' question has been developed for use on social surveys that offers some insight into how an individual views their identity. This guidance outlines the process for asking and presenting national identity data. 

It is recommended that the question should be used in addition to the ethnic group question and whenever there is a need to collect data about national identities; for example, when respondents classify themselves as English, Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, Irish, British or another national identity.

It is important to be aware that in Northern Ireland, to comply with the Good Friday Agreement, the national identity question must be asked in such a way that no-one is forced to choose between being British, Irish and Northern Irish. This requirement is satisfied through the question being multi-response.

For guidance on data presentation please refer to the related link

What is the recommended national identity question to use on government surveys?

The recommended national identity 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. The recommended question to be used:

         ‘How would you describe your national identity?’

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Where on a survey should the national identity question be asked?

  • The national identity question should be asked as a separate question but in addition to the ethnic group question. This is because research has shown that classifying ethnic group is best achieved separately from national identity.

  • Research also suggests that people were happier when asked about their national identity first. It is therefore recommended that the national identity question is asked immediately before the ethnic group question in surveys.

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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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What order should the categories be?

It is recommended that the order of response categories should be changed depending on the country in which the question is being asked. The recommended orders of categories are given below in national identity question (a).

Where cross-country comparability is a priority above comparability with respective census questions, categories for a single UK question have been recommended in national identity question (b). It is still recommended however, that the category orders follow those presented in national identity question (a). Note that, there is a slight variation of response categories for Northern Ireland, in both (a) and (b) an Irish category is located between the ‘British’ and ‘Northern Irish’ categories. To comply with the Good Friday Agreement, the national identity question must be asked in such a way that no-one is forced to choose between being British, Irish and Northern Irish. If they wish respondents may report more than one national identity.

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Multi-Response

The national identity question is a multi-response question, this allows for a proportion of respondents who wish to identify with two or more identities. Multiple response categories for the presentation of results are primarily data driven. Categories will need to be agreed before presentation.

It is important to be aware that in Northern Ireland, to comply with the Good Friday Agreement, the national identity question must be asked in such a way that no-one is forced to choose between being British, Irish and Northern Irish. This requirement is satisfied through the question being multi-response.

Where there are multiple-responses, presentation of results should include a footnote to explain why the total number of responses is greater than the sample population.

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What about the ‘Other’ category?

The list of national identity categories provided in the recommended question is by no means definitive and does not capture all national identities in the UK. In order to capture nationalities outside of the UK, a write-in option under ‘Other’ national identity is available. This category is very important for the acceptability of the question and response rates.

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What if more national identity categories are needed?

Categories of national identity in the recommendation questions by no means capture all identities within the UK and in certain cases it might be necessary to explicitly list additional categories. Categories must take into account practical issues surrounding data collection and presentation. A longer classification might allow for identification of many smaller groups of identities, however, caution is required with analysis of such numbers (to ensure reliability and to avoid disclosure) if figures produced are too low to publish separately then they may need to be aggregated with the ‘Other’ group for publication. For some cases it might be necessary to expand the ‘Other’ category. 

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What instructions should be used when asking the national identity question?

  • It is recommended that a show card is used in interviewer-led surveys. Where this is not possible (e.g. telephone interviews), the response categories should be read out by the interviewer in the same order as they appear in the box below.

  • The question is a multi-response question and the show card must include the instruction ‘Please choose all that apply’ in addition to being read out by the interviewer. This is particularly important in Northern Ireland where respondents must not be asked to choose between ‘British’, ‘Irish’ and ‘Northern Irish’ (see above). 

  • The instruction ‘please describe’ should also be included on the show card following the ‘Other’ response option. 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 national identity question for a survey in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

This is the recommended national identity question and layout for use on a survey in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The order of response categories are changed depending on where the question is being asked.

National identity question (a) for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

Applies to All

Interviewer to read:

How would you describe your national identity?
Please choose all that apply.

In England

Interviewer to read options

English
Welsh
Scottish
Northern Irish
British
Other, please describe

In Wales

Interviewer to read options

Welsh
English
Scottish
Northern Irish
British
Other, please describe

In Scotland

Interviewer to read options

Scottish
English
Welsh
Northern Irish
British
Other, please describe

In Northern Ireland

Interviewer to read options

British
Irish
Northern Irish
English
Scottish
Welsh
Other, please describe

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What is the recommended national identity question for asking a single UK question?

This is the recommended national identity question and layout for use on a survey when using the single UK question.

National identity question (b): Single UK presentation

Applies to All

Interviewer to read:

How would you describe your national identity?
Please choose all that apply.

Category order dependant on where question is asked

In England

Interviewer to read options

English
Welsh
Scottish
Northern Irish
British
Irish 
Other, please describe
In Wales

Interviewer to read options

Welsh
English
Scottish
Northern Irish
British
Irish 
Other, please describe

In Scotland

Interviewer to read options

Scottish
Welsh
English
Northern Irish
British
Irish 
Other, please describe
In Northern Ireland

Interviewer to read options

British
Irish
Northern Irish
English
Scottish
Welsh
Other, please describe

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Content from the Office for National Statistics.
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