Ethnicity harmonised standard

This harmonised standard is under development. We plan to review and update the current harmonised standard by looking at evidence such as the ethnic group questions and output classifications for Census 2021 for England and Wales, Census 2021 for Northern Ireland, and the recommended question for Census 2022 for Scotland. This will also take into account recommendations from the Inclusive Data Taskforce. Please see the ‘Future developments’ section of this page for more information. If you would like to be involved with this work, please contact us: gsshelp@statistics.gov.uk.

Policy details

Metadata item Details
Publication date:1 August 2011
Author:Rhys Fletcher and Klara Valentova
Approver:Sofi Nickson
Who this is for:Users and producers of official statistics
Type:Harmonisation standards and guidance
Contact:

gsshelp@statistics.gov.uk

Review frequency:

This page will reviewed annually.

Updates:

To support our users, since 2011 further guidance has been added to this standard and the webpage has been re-formatted. The questions and outputs remain unchanged.

What is harmonisation?

Harmonisation is the process of making statistics and data more comparable, consistent and coherent. Harmonised standards set out how to collect and report statistics to ensure comparability across different data collections in the Government Statistical Service (GSS). Harmonisation produces more useful statistics that give users a greater level of understanding.

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What do we mean by ethnicity?

The Office for National Statistics notes that 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. Since ethnicity is a multifaceted and changing phenomenon, various possible ways of measuring ethnic groups are available and have been used over time. These include common ancestry and elements of culture, identity, religion, language and physical appearance. What seems to be generally accepted, however, is that ethnicity includes all these aspects, and others, in combination.

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Questions and response options (inputs)

The harmonised questions on this topic are designed to collect basic information on ethnicity, for use in most surveys. They are not designed to replace questions used in specialist surveys where more detailed analysis is required. Please also note that the format of the question varies slightly depending on whether data is being collected in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales. Please see the ‘Guidance for devolved administrations’ section of this page for more information.

Face-to-face interview or self-complete mode questions

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

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

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

 Asian / Asian British

  1. Indian
  2. Pakistani
  3. Bangladeshi
  4. Chinese
  5. Any other Asian background, please describe

 Black / African / Caribbean / Black British

  1. African
  2. Caribbean
  3. Any other Black / African / Caribbean background, please describe

 Other ethnic group

  1. Arab
  2. Any other ethnic group, please describe

Below is the recommended ethnic group question for use in 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).

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

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

 Asian / Asian British

  1. Indian
  2. Pakistani
  3. Bangladeshi
  4. Chinese
  5. Any other Asian background, please describe

 Black / African / Caribbean / Black British

  1. African
  2. Caribbean
  3. Any other Black / African / Caribbean background, please describe

 Other ethnic group

  1. Arab
  2. Any other ethnic group, please describe

Below is the recommended 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.

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

  1. Any Mixed or Multiple ethnic groups, please describe

 Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British

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

 African

  1. African, African Scottish or African British
  2. Any other African, please describe

Caribbean or Black

  1. Caribbean, Caribbean Scottish or Caribbean British
  2. Black, Black Scottish or Black British
  3. Any other Caribbean or Black, please describe

 Other ethnic group

  1. Arab, Arab Scottish or Arab British
  2. Any other ethnic group, please describe

Below is the recommended 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).

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

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

 Asian / Asian British

  1. Indian
  2. Pakistani
  3. Bangladeshi
  4. Chinese
  5. Any other Asian background, please describe

 Black / African / Caribbean / Black British

  1. African
  2. Caribbean
  3. Any other Black / African / Caribbean background, please describe

 Other ethnic group

  1. Arab
  2. Any other ethnic group, please describe

Telephone interview questions

Where use of a show card is not possible (such as in telephone surveys), the question should be asked in stages due to the length of the question. The recommended stages are presented below (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.

Questions for England

Part 1

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. 

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

Part 2

Interviewer to read:

And which one of these best describes your ethnic group or background?

Interviewer to read the following options if response to Part 1:

Part 1 = “White”

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

Part 1 = “Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups”

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

Part 1 = “Asian/Asian British”

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

Part 1 = “Black/African/Caribbean/Black British”

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

Part 1 = “Other ethnic group” or Part 2 = “Any other…”

  1. Please can you describe your ethnic group or background? (record respondent’s answer)

Part 1

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. 

Interviewer to read options:

  1. White or
  2. Mixed or Multiple ethnic groups, 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

Part 2

Interviewer to read:

And which one of these best describes your ethnic group or background?

Interviewer to read the following options if response to Part 1:

Part 1 = “White”

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

Part 1 = “Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups” – No follow-up questions.

Part 1 = “Asian/Asian British”

  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

Part 1 = “African”

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

Part 1 = “Caribbean or Black”

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

Part 1 = “Other ethnic group” or Part 2 = “Any other…”

  1. Please can you describe your ethnic group or background? (record respondent’s answer)

Part 1

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. 

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

Part 2

Interviewer to read:

And which one of these best describes your ethnic group or background?

Interviewer to read the following options if response to Part 1:

Part 1 = “White” – No follow-up questions

Part 1 = “Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups”

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

Part 1 = “Asian/Asian British”

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

Part 1 = “Black/African/Caribbean/Black British”

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

Part 1 = “Other ethnic group” or Part 2 = “Any other…”

  1. Please can you describe your ethnic group or background? (record respondent’s answer)

Part 1

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. 

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

Part 2

Interviewer to read:

And which one of these best describes your ethnic group or background?

Interviewer to read the following options if response to Part 1:

Part 1 = “White”

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

Part 1 = “Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups”

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

Part 1 = “Asian/Asian British”

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

Part 1 = “Black/African/Caribbean/Black British”

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

Part 1 = “Other ethnic group” or Part 2 = “Any other…”

  1. Please can you describe your ethnic group or background? (record respondent’s answer)

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Using this standard

Collecting data on ethnicity is complex because of the subjective and multifaceted nature of the concept. It is self-defined and subjectively meaningful to an individual and tends to evolve in the context of social and political attitudes or developments. To allow respondents to fully express their ethnicity, it is recommended that the harmonised questions on ethnic group are asked in conjunction with harmonised questions on national identity and religion. This provides a more comprehensive understanding of an individual’s ethnic and cultural identity which in turn leads to more accurate picture of a population. Additionally, testing shows that asking the national identity question immediately before the ethnic group question increases the public acceptability of the ethnic group question as it allows respondents to express their identity as British, English, Northern Irish, Scottish, Welsh irrespective of their ethnic group.

We recommend that the questions are asked in the following order:

  • national identity
  • ethnic group
  • religion

Types of data collection this standard is suitable for

This standard can be used in interviewer and self-complete modes, including telephone interviewing, face-to-face interviewing, paper self-completion, and online self-completion.

It is recommended that the ethnic group question is asked in a way that allows the respondent to see all possible response options or subcategories before making their decision. Therefore, in face-to-face interviewer-led surveys, a single show card which presents all response options should be used. Similarly, a self-completion survey (e.g. paper-based) should use a single question. Both the show card and paper-based surveys should include the instruction “please describe” in brackets and non-bold font following the response option of “any other [ethnic group] background”.

If a showcard is not possible, it is recommended to use the questions developed for telephone interviewing.

Who should respond to the ethnicity questions?

Ethnic group, religion and national identity are self-identification measures reflecting how people define themselves. Therefore, a response to a question should be answered by the respondent directly, particularly if the respondent is an adult. It is sometimes possible to ask another member of the household to reply on behalf of a respondent, however, this should be used only as a last resort. Where this does occur, notes reflecting this should be recorded. It is also important that interviewers do not attempt to use their own judgements to record respondent’s ethnicity.

Children and young people

The questions have been tested and designed for use with adult respondents aged 16 and over. If the target population is below this age, guidance may be needed from the child’s parent, guardian, or carer, particularly if the child is below the age of 12 as they may not understand what the question is asking. It is not recommended that categories are removed from the response options available to children as their choice should not be limited because of their age (and other factors).

Expressing British identity

The 2007 consultation with users of census data (explained in the Final Question Report on ethnicity from 2011, 887.9 kB pdf)  found that people who do not identify as White would like to express their affiliation with the UK countries, particularly those born in the UK. We therefore recommend highlighting the use of the “Other” write-in option under the selected higher-level response category as well as implementing the national identity question, all of which allows respondents to self-identify as British, English, Northern Irish, Scottish or Welsh irrespective of their high-level ethnicity.

European respondents

The GSS Harmonisation Team found that non-UK European respondents from a White background may struggle to select the correct higher-level ethnic group category they identify with. They may incorrectly identify under the “Other” higher-level response option due to the “White” option only offering subcategories of the UK nationalities, despite self-describing as White. We recommend that respondents who identify as White are reminded to select the “White” higher-level response category regardless of their nationality.

“Other” write-in category

Providing a write-in option under the “Other” response category allows respondents to fully express their ethnic identity and feel recognised. This should be followed by “please describe” instruction in brackets and non-bold font.

We recommend that any write-in responses from the “Other” category are processed following the Census 2011 ethnic group classification approach to ensure consistency, comparability, and coherence of the data. However, to avoid disclosure and maximise reliability, if the produced figures are too small to be published, it may be more suitable to suppress or aggregate data to the relevant “Other” category.

It is also important to let respondents know that even though a separate tick-box for their ethnic group may not be present, their answer will still get recorded. Specifically, respondents should be informed about the way their write-in response is processed and outputted.

Guidance for data collection

Please note that as different countries within the United Kingdom (UK) have specific requirements from their ethnicity data, the format of the question varies slightly depending on whether data is collected in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales. It is therefore recommended that the harmonised country specific approaches are used where possible, rather than a blanket approach. It is recognised that in rare cases not all Great Britain or United Kingdom wide surveys will have the resources required to ask different questions in different countries. Additionally, to facilitate comparison at a UK level, the harmonised standards allow a Great Britain and UK level outputs. See the “Guidance for devolved administrations” section of this page for more information.

Guidance for respondents on question completion

In order to reduce respondent burden and ensure high data quality, we recommend that a guidance on how to complete the question is made available to respondents. Please refer to the paper guidance or online guidance for self-identifying ethnicity, which was developed for England and Wales Census 2021. In surveys where ethnicity question follows a one-stage rather than two-stage process, the first section of the paper guidance should be provided regardless of mode.

This question has more than one stage. It’s up to you how you answer this question. Your ethnic group could be your cultural or family background.

First, choose one option that best reflects your identity from the groups listed. Once you’ve chosen the group you most closely identify with, select an option on the next page. If your ethnic group isn’t listed, you can select the “Any other” option and enter your identity. If you feel you belong to more than one ethnic background from the group, select “Mixed or Multiple ethnic group”.

If your ethnic group isn’t listed

If your ethnic background doesn’t fall within one of the first four listed groups, then choose “Other ethnic group” and select an option and enter your ethnic group if appropriate. When you start typing, suggested answers will appear. You can select from this list or continue typing your own answer if your ethnic group isn’t listed.

Answering for someone else

If you’re answering on behalf of someone else, where possible you should ask them how they want to answer. If they’re away, select the answer you think they would choose.

It’s up to you how you answer this question. Your ethnic group could be your cultural or family background.

First, choose one option that reflects your identity from sections A to E.

Once you’ve chosen the section you most closely identify with, select an option within that section. If your ethnic group is not listed, you can select the “Any other” option within that section and write in your identity.

If you feel you belong to more than one ethnic background from the sections, select “Mixed or Multiple ethnic group”.

If your ethnic group isn’t listed

If your ethnic background doesn’t fall within one of the first four listed sections, then select “Other ethnic group” and select an option and enter your ethnic group if appropriate.

Not enough space

If you run out of space, enter as much as you can. Only enter one character per box.

Answering for someone else

If you’re answering on behalf of someone else, where possible you should ask them how they want to answer. If they’re away, select the answer you think they would choose.

Guidance for UK constituent countries

Each nation within the United Kingdom (UK) has specific requirements from their ethnicity data, therefore the harmonised country specific standards should be used rather than a blanket approach.  In the case of Great Britain (GB) or UK wide surveys that do not have the resources to implement the country-specific approaches, the approach for England or Wales can be used in Scotland. To facilitate comparison at a UK level, the harmonised standards also allow for GB and UK level outputs.

For Northern Ireland, the specific requirements comply with the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement which recognises “the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose”. There are also requirements enforcing the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 which outlaws discrimination on grounds of colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origin. The Irish Traveller community is specifically identified in the Order as a racial group protected against unlawful racial discrimination. Therefore, the community constitutes a standalone category (i.e. not a subcategory of White) in the harmonised standard for Northern Ireland.

For Scotland, the specific requirements comply with the ethnicity classification defined in Scotland’s new ethnicity classification for Scottish Official Statistics and recommended for Scotland’s 2011 Census report. This was developed following community concerns about the ethnic group classification used in the 2001 Census for Scotland, and the recommendations by the Race Equality Advisory Forum in 2001. The Scottish Government and the National Records Scotland therefore reviewed the approaches Scottish surveys took on classifying ethnicity and detailed their work in the above report. The review identified the benefits for developing a separate national identity and a new ethnicity classification for Scottish Official Statistics and the Scottish Census. Using both questions together would allow people to self-express their “Scottish-ness”, “British-ness” or any other national identity as well as express other aspects of their ethnic identity. The classification was discussed by Members of the Scottish Parliament during considerations of the 2011 Census in Scotland and was subsequently amended for use in the Census. Details of the committee discussions can be seen in the Official Reports of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee (9th and 12th meetings).

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Presenting and reporting the data (outputs)

When writing about ethnicity facts and figures, please follow the approach recommended by the Race Disparity Unit (RDU).

It is also important to note when producing outputs for surveys with Great Britain (GB) or United Kingdom (UK) coverage, some of the response categories can only be harmonised at the main level category. Footnotes should also be included to explain the differences in the data collection process (as explained in the Standards outputs).

Ethnic group Data
White
English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British X
Irish X
Gypsy, Traveller or Irish Traveller X
Any other White background X
Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups
White and Black Caribbean X
White and Black African X
White and Asian X
Any other Mixed/Multiple ethnic background X
Asian/Asian British
Indian X
Pakistani X
Bangladeshi X
Chinese X
Any other Asian background X
Black/African/Caribbean/Black British
African X
Caribbean X
Any other Black/African/Caribbean background X
Other ethnic group
Arab X
Any other ethnic group X

Ethnic group Data
White X
Irish Traveller X
Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups
White and Black Caribbean X
White and Black African X
White and Asian X
Any other Mixed/Multiple ethnic background X
Asian/Asian British
Indian X
Pakistani X
Bangladeshi X
Chinese X
Any other Asian background X
Black/African/Caribbean/Black British
African X
Caribbean X
Any other Black/African/Caribbean background X
Other ethnic group
Arab X
Any other ethnic group X

Ethnic group Data
White
Scottish X
Other British X
Irish X
Gypsy/Traveller X
Polish X
Any other white ethnic group X
Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups
Any mixed or multiple ethnic groups X
Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British
Pakistani, Pakistani Scottish or Pakistani British X
Indian, Indian Scottish or Indian British X
Bangladeshi, Bangladeshi Scottish or Bangladeshi British X
Chinese, Chinese Scottish or Chinese British X
Any other Asian X
African
African, African Scottish or African British X
Any other African X
Caribbean or Black
Caribbean, Caribbean Scottish or Caribbean British X
Black, Black Scottish or Black British X
Any other Caribbean or Black X
Other ethnic group
Arab, Arab Scottish or Arab British X
Any other ethnic group X

If the harmonised country specific ethnic group questions for England, Wales and Scotland are used to produce a Great Britain (GB) level output then the presentation of data should follow order of responses in the box below. It is important to note that due to some of the differences in the format and wording of Scotland’s harmonised country specific ethnic group question some responses are not directly comparable. Response categories should be aggregated and presented at the main level category with footnotes to explain the differences in the data collection process.

Ethnic group Data
White
English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British X
Irish X
Gypsy, Traveller or Irish Traveller X
Any other White background X
Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups X
Asian/Asian British
Indian X
Pakistani X
Bangladeshi X
Chinese X
Any other Asian background X
Black/African/Caribbean/Black British X
Other ethnic group
Arab X
Any other ethnic group X

If the harmonised country specific ethnic group questions for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are used to produce a UK output then the presentation of data should follow the box below. It is important to note that due to some of the differences in the format and wording of the Scotland harmonised country specific ethnic group question some responses are not directly comparable. Response categories should be aggregated and presented at the main level category with footnotes to explain the differences in the data collection process.

Ethnic group Data
White X
Irish Traveller X
Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups X
Asian/Asian British X
Indian X
Pakistani X
Bangladeshi X
Chinese X
Any other Asian background X
Black/African/Caribbean/Black British X
Other ethnic group X
Arab X
Any other ethnic group X

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Comparability and examples of when this standard has been used

Outputs that use this standard are comparable with other surveys that also use this standard. However, we would not recommend comparing ethnicity from outputs using this standard with outputs that use an alternative measure.

Use in the Census

The current harmonised standard for ethnic group is based on the 2011 Census questions across the UK. Surveys using the same question as any of the 2011 Censuses can therefore be deemed broadly comparable with the harmonised standard for ethnic group.

Surveys that use this standard

Examples of data using the harmonised standard can be found on the Race Disparity Unit website. This includes publications outputting ethnicity using the 2011 detailed census categories as well as comparable publications that output ethnicity using the five high-level categories. The more granular 2011 detailed categories are a preferred way for ethnicity data outputting.

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Development of this standard

This standard was developed through a cross-government harmonisation project between 2008 and 2010, involving consultation and workshops with stakeholders that included:

  • Office for National Statistics
  • Scottish Government and National Records of Scotland
  • Welsh Government
  • Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister/Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency
  • Equality and Human Rights Commission
  • Data Standards Working Group
  • other government departments
  • academics

Response option design

The design of the ethnicity harmonised standard was driven by extensive research and consultation carried out during the question development for the 2011 Census. The use of tick-boxes was found to be the most suitable approach to ensure data collection is systematic, data processing possible and efficient, and respondent burden minimised. As it is not plausible to list every ethnic group, based on the Census 2011 ethnic group prioritisation principles, the following actions and criteria guided the selection of ethnic group categories for the harmonised standard:

  • public and topic expert consultations
  • cognitive interviews
  • strength of need for information on specific ethnic group
  • lack of alternative sources of information on specific ethnic group
  • clarity and quality of the information collected and acceptability to respondents
  • comparability with other data sources
  • comparability over time

This approach may however make some respondents feel unrecognised and/or limited in their ability to self-identify. We therefore encourage that a write-in response option under “Other” is included and used by respondents of unlisted ethnic groups. For more details on the classification of ethnic groups, please refer to the Ethnic group, national identity and religion report.

Response option ordering

With regards to the order of response options, the ethnicity harmonised standard is not categorised in alphabetical order. There are two main reasons for this as identified in the Final recommended 2011 questionnaire content for England and Wales report (111.0 kB pdf).

Firstly, census is designed to be as easy to complete as possible. Testing across the UK has shown that respondents tend to only read down the classification as far as the first tick-box they find suitable. More than 90 per cent of respondents tick a box under the “White” category, therefore placing it first will minimise respondent burden. This is similar for subcategories, where tick-boxes are ordered by population size.

Secondly, the “Mixed” higher-level category is positioned second as question testing showed that respondents from this ethnic background were likely to miss this category if it was placed at the bottom of the classification. Respondents would instead select multiple tick-boxes under the other higher-level categories. For example, a respondent of mixed “White” and “Asian/Asian British” background might tick both a “White” and “Asian” tick-box instead of “Mixed ethnic groups”.

The remaining categories (“Asian/Asian British” and “Black/African/Caribbean/Black British”) were placed in alphabetical order. During cognitive testing the majority of respondents found the order of the categories in the ethnic group question acceptable.

Further information on questions development can be found in the Final recommended 2011 questionnaire content for England and Wales report (111.0 kB pdf).

Due to the close association of ethnicity and national identity, the development of the ethnic group question for Census 2011 was interlinked with the development of a national identity question. Providing both questions allows individuals to identify their nationality, in addition to their ethnic group. In accordance with this, we recommend using a national identity harmonised standard alongside and prior to the ethnicity standard.

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Future developments

Inclusive Data Taskforce

In October 2020, the National Statistician established the Inclusive Data Taskforce to improve the UK’s inclusive data holdings in a broad range of areas, including the nine protected characteristics of the Equality Act. In September 2021, the Taskforce recommendations were published, some of which specifically refer to harmonised standards. The National Statistician’s response to these recommendations references the publication of a GSS Harmonisation Plan and the review, refinement and updating of harmonised standards. Further information on this work will be made available in due course.

Censuses 2021 and 2022

We plan to review and update the current harmonised standard by looking at evidence such as the recommended ethnic group questions for Census 2021 England and Wales, Census 2021 for Northern Ireland, and Census 2022 for Scotland. The Census Regulations have now been made and include many of the operational details of the census, as well as exact copies of the paper and online questionnaires.

The questions designed specifically for Censuses 2021 (England and Wales, and Northern Ireland) and 2022 (Scotland) have not yet been widely used in surveys and administrative data collection. We therefore intend to monitor usage, performance and feedback in the coming months so that we can better understand how they might perform in surveys and administrative data. If you would like to be involved in these developments, please contact us: gsshelp@statistics.gov.uk.

The following summary outlines the current position based on the regulations in England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

England and Wales

Governed by the Census Regulations for England and the Census Regulations for Wales, the ethnicity question in the Census 2021 for England and Wales included:

  • a tick-box for “Roma” in the “White” category
  • an option for those selecting “African” within the “Black, Black British, Caribbean or African” category to write in a more specific African ethnic background
  • changes in the way “African” and “Caribbean” tick-boxes are ordered within the “Black, Black British, Caribbean or African” category (“Caribbean” is listed before “African”)
  • the examples “Black Welsh” and “Asian Welsh” in the corresponding higher-level ethnic group category descriptions (Welsh questionnaire only)

Testing for the 2021 Census showed that for online completion, the ethnicity question should be asked in two stages. First, respondents are presented with the higher-level groups (e.g. “White”) followed by specific ethnic group categories (e.g. “British”). Moreover, the online “search-as-you-type” functionality was introduced to allow respondents to self-identify their ethnicity as they wish. To improve the readability of the question, the slashed between terms were removed for both online and paper versions of the 2021 Census. We aim to continue maximising the ease of responding to the ethnicity question therefore further testing is being carried out.

Northern Ireland

Governed by the Census Regulations for Northern Ireland, the ethnicity question in the Census 2021 for Northern Ireland included:

  • a tick-box for “Roma”
  • a tick-box for “Filipino”
  • a design change removing “Pakistani”, “Bangladeshi” and “Black Caribbean” categories (these responses can be written-in by respondents)

Scotland

Governed by the Census Regulations for Scotland, the approved ethnicity question in the  Census 2022 for Scotland will include:

  • a tick-box  for “Roma” in the “White” category
  • changes in the way “Polish” and “Gypsy/Traveller” are ordered in the “White” category (“Polish” is listed before “Gypsy / Traveller”)
  • a tick box for “Showman/Showwoman” in the “White” category
  • a prompt to write in “Jewish, Sikh” in the “Other ethnic group” category
  • a design change to the “African” category to improve data quality
  • a design change to the “Caribbean or Black” category to improve data quality
  • changing the category heading “African” to “African, Scottish African or British African” to improve acceptability and parity
  • “Scottish” and “Other British” before the other parts of the ethnic group label in the “White” category
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Further information

It is strongly encouraged to capture cultural identity using the full harmonised suite of cultural identity questions: ethnicity, national identity and religion. This captures a fuller picture of identity, for example by allowing respondents to express their identity as British, English, Northern Irish, Scottish and/or Welsh irrespective of their ethnic group.

It is recognised that not all surveys or administrative data sources will have the capacity or user need to ask these harmonised questions on ethnic group, religion and national identity in combination. However, if the full suite of harmonised questions is not asked together then other sources of information should be used to inform legal obligations under the Equality Act (2010), Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) and analogous legislation such as Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act (1998). These require public bodies to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and build good relations between different people when carrying out their activities.

The Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. Under the Equality Act 2010 Race (including ethnic or national origins, colour or nationality) and Religion or belief (including lack of belief) are both protected characteristics. Therefore, it is recommended that the suite of harmonised questions on ethnic group, religion and national identity are asked together to inform obligations under the PSED.

Language is another concept that is often associated with ethnicity, religion and national identity. You may wish to consider collecting information on language to gain further insight into a population, though currently a GSS wide harmonised standard is not offered due to a lack of user need. If you believe there is a wider need for a harmonised language standard then please contact us at gsshelp@statistics.gov.uk.

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