1. Introduction

Following on from the 2021 Census – Assessment of initial user requirements on content for England and Wales: Ethnicity and National Identity Topic Report, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) undertook a review of the ethnic group response options. We considered these alongside the national identity and religion response options. This involved consultation with stakeholder groups. We also indicated we would do further work to investigate the best approach to present the current ethnic group question online on a range of devices.

To meet the latter, we conducted the 2017 Ethnic Group Question Test. This was designed to test three alternative versions of the ethnic group question (see Appendix 1):

  • test 1 included a two-stage 2011-style question (Test 1, 2011)
  • test 2 was a hybrid alternative question (Test 2, Alt)
  • test 3 was a two-stage 2011-style question with a Sikh tick box (Test 3, Sikh)

There was significant interest in adding a Sikh tick box to the ethnic group question on the England and Wales census before the 2011 Census. This continued through the 2021 Census topic consultation. Therefore we included one variant of the ethnic group question, which included a Sikh tick box under the “Other” higher-level category (see Test 3).

This summary report provides the tables we’ll be using to evaluate the effect of including a Sikh tick box within the ethnic group question, and findings will be part of continuing discussions with stakeholders before the survey is published in full in autumn 2017. The full report, covering the evaluation of the alternative question and further work on our assessment of a need for additional response options, will be published in autumn 2017.

For the Sikh ethnic group, the tables in this report provide evidence we’ll use to evaluate whether Sikh religious affiliation sufficiently meets the user need. We’ll also consider further evidence from the 2011 Census and the census test carried out in 2017, and responses from the ONS Ethnic Group Follow-up Stakeholder Survey, before making the final recommendation on the ethnic group question.

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2. Overall objectives of the 2017 Ethnic Group Question Test

We aimed to test different online question designs. We assessed the performance of three questions by response rates, respondent burden and whether other questions could be used as a proxy. The evidence in this report will be used in the evaluation of the need for an additional Sikh response option.

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3. Method for the Ethnic Group 2017 Question Test

We commissioned BMG Research to conduct an online survey on our behalf in Hounslow and Wolverhampton (areas with high numbers of Sikhs). The survey started in February 2017. These local authorities were chosen due to their diversity of ethnicity, including a measurable Sikh population.

Invitations to complete the online survey were sent to 40,000 randomly-selected households – half in Hounslow and half in Wolverhampton. One individual within the household was invited to take part.

Three ethnic group question versions were tested within the 2017 Ethnic Group Question Test. Each selected address was sent a letter, which directed participants to complete an online survey. There were three versions of the online survey. These were census in style and identical, except for the ethnic group question.

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4. Findings

Of respondents receiving the 2011-style tick box question (with no Sikh response option) who stated their religious affiliation as Sikh, 12% also wrote in Sikh as their ethnic group response. This compares with 24% when a Sikh tick box was included in the ethnic group question under the “Other” higher-level ethnic group category. See Tables 4 and 5 for more information.

All respondents to the 2017 Ethnic Group Question Test who had selected Sikh ethnic group also selected Sikh as their religious affiliation. This compares with 1.6% in the 2011 Census who had recorded themselves as ethnically Sikh with a religious affiliation other than Sikh.

There is no indication from the findings that the religious affiliation and ethnic group questions are capturing different Sikh populations. All respondents who stated they were ethnically Sikh also stated their religious affiliation was Sikh. This is in line with findings from the 2011 Census data.

It should be taken into consideration that the numbers of the Sikh population within the test are relatively low.

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5. Results

Tables 1 and 2 show the overall sample sizes and response rates by each local authority and each version of the question test. The total response rate for the survey was 13.4%.

The highest response rate came from areas with higher online connectivity. There’s a greater incidence of high online connectivity in Hounslow compared with Wolverhampton.

Table 3 shows that between 0.5% and 2.7% of the sample identified as ethnically Sikh either through writing in or selecting the Sikh response option across the six cells of data.

The highest percentage was in Wolverhampton, within Test 3. In this version respondents were given a Sikh tick box under the higher-level “Other” category.

Tables 4 and 5 show the number and percentage of those who identify as religious and/or ethnically Sikh.

When respondents were given a 2011-style question, including a write-in response option, 12% had written in Sikh as their ethnic group response. This compared with 24% when a Sikh tick box was included in the question.

All survey respondents who had selected Sikh as their ethnic group also selected Sikh as their religious affiliation.

Tables 6 to 11 show the number and percentage of respondents who stated they were ethnically and/or religiously affiliated as Sikh by local authority and question version.

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6. Next steps

This work will feed into an evaluation of requests for additional response options for the census ethnic group question, which will be published in autumn 2017. We’ll also be publishing the full 2017 Ethnic Group Question Test report in autumn 2017.

Our recommendation on census questions will be included in the White Paper we’re planning to publish in 2018.

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7. Appendix 1: Question versions used in the 2017 Ethnic Group Question Test

Test 1: Two-stage 2011-style question (Test 1, 2011)

Stage 1

What is your ethnic group?
  • White
    Including English/ Welsh/ Scottish/ Northern Irish/ British, Irish, Gypsy or Irish Traveller or any other White background

  • Mixed/ multiple ethnic groups
    Including White and Black Caribbean, White and Black African, White and Asian or any other Mixed/ multiple ethnic background

  • Asian/ Asian British
    Including Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese or any other Asian background

  • Black/ African/ Caribbean/ Black British
    Including African, Caribbean or any other Black/ African/ Caribbean background

  • Other ethnic group
    Including Arab or any other ethnic group

Stage 2

Which one best describes your White ethnic group of background?
  • English/ Welsh/ Scottish/ Northern Irish/ British
  • Irish
  • Gypsy or Irish Traveller
  • Any other white background, write in

Test 2: Hybrid alternative question (Test 2, Alt)

Stage 1

What is your ethnic group?
It is for you to choose your ethnic group. For example, this could be your family or cultural background.
Choose one of the following answers. You will then be asked to provide more detail about your ethnic group.
  • White
  • Mixed/ multiple ethnic groups
  • Asian/ Asian British
  • Black/ Black British
  • I identify with another ethnic group

Stage 2

Type in more detail about Black/ Black British ethnic group.
For example: African, Caribbean.
Suggested answers will appear as you type. Either select an option or add your own.

Test 3: Two- stage 2011-style design with a Sikh tick box (Test 3, Sikh)

Stage 1

What is your ethnic group?
  • White
    Including English/ Welsh/ Scottish/ Northern Irish/ British, Irish, Gypsy or Irish Traveller or any other White background
  • Mixed/ multiple ethnic groups
    Including White and Black Caribbean, White and Black African, White and Asian or any other Mixed/ multiple ethnic background
  • Asian/ Asian British
    Including Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese or any other Asian background
  • Black/ African/ Caribbean/ Black British
    Including African, Caribbean or any other Black/ African/ Caribbean background
  • Other ethnic group
    Including Arab, Sikh or any other ethnic group

Stage 2

Which one best describes your Other ethnic group or background?
  • Arab
  • Sikh
  • Any other ethnic group
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