National identity harmonised standard

Policy details

Metadata item Details
Publication date:28 April 2021
Author:Marie John
Approver:Sofi Nickson
Who this is for:Producers and users of statistics
Type:Harmonisation standards and guidance
Contact:

gsshelp@statistics.gov.uk

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.  

What do we mean by 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.

Questions and response options (inputs)

The harmonised questions on this topic are designed to collect basic information, for use in the majority of surveys. They are not designed to replace questions used in specialist surveys where more detailed analysis is required.

Recommended orders of categories: Great Britain (GB) presentation

Country Question stemResponse options
EnglandHow would you describe your national identity?

Please choose all that apply.
English
Welsh
Scottish
Northern Irish
British
Other, please describe
WalesHow would you describe your national identity?

Please choose all that apply.
Welsh
English
Scottish
Northern Irish
British
Other, please describe
ScotlandHow would you describe your national identity?

Please choose all that apply.
Scottish
English
Welsh
Northern Irish
British
Other, please describe
Northern IrelandHow would you describe your national identity?

Please choose all that apply.
British
Irish
Northern Irish
English
Scottish
Welsh
Other, please describe

Recommended orders of categories: single UK presentation

Where cross-country comparability is a priority above comparability with respective census questions, categories for a single UK question are recommended.

It is still recommended however that the category orders follow those presented in the question for Great Britain presentation section.

Although there is a slight variation in response categories for Northern Ireland, an Irish category should be located between the ‘British’ and ‘Other’ categories. To comply with the Good Friday Agreement, the national identity question should be asked in a way that no-one from Northern Ireland should be forced to choose between being British, Irish and Northern Irish.

Category order dependent on where question is asked.

The question for single UK presentation 

CountryQuestion stemResponse options
EnglandHow would you describe your national identity?

Please choose all that apply.
English
Welsh
Scottish
Northern Irish
British
Irish
Other, please describe
WalesHow would you describe your national identity?

Please choose all that apply.
Welsh
English
Scottish
Northern Irish
British
Irish
Other, please describe
ScotlandHow would you describe your national identity?

Please choose all that apply.
Scottish
Welsh
English
Norther Irish
British
Irish
Other, please describe
Northern IrelandHow would you describe your national identity?

Please choose all that apply.
British
Irish
Northern Irish
English
Scottish
Welsh
Other, please describe

Interviewer guidance 

 If the respondent does not understand the term national identity“, clarify that it is whatever it means to them. For clarification use the following statement: Your national identity could be the country or countries where you feel you belong or think of as home. It is not dependent on your ethnic group or citizenship. 

If you are taking proxy information, use the following instructions: “If you are answering on behalf of someone else, where possible you should ask them how they want to answer. If they are away, select the answer you think they would choose“. 

We want people to be able to choose one national identity if that is how they think of themselves, or if they have more than one identity, then to be able to express this.  The interviewer should read the instruction clearly “Please choose all that apply” and pause long enough after respondents have given an answer to allow them time to choose multiple answers if they want to. 

Showcard 

It is recommended that a showcard is used in interviewer-led surveys. Where this is not possible (for example telephone interviews), the response categories should be read out by the interviewer in the same order as they appear on the show card.  The show card should include the instruction “Please choose all that apply” in addition to being read out by the interviewer. 

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. 

Using this standard

This question allows respondents to choose more than one identity (if they think of themselves as having more than one). This is because, like ethnicity, national identity is self-defined, i.e. it is something that is subjectively meaningful to the person concerned.

Question placement

Collecting data on cultural identity 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 properly express their cultural identity, it is recommended that three questions are asked together: national identity, ethnic group and religion. This provides a more comprehensive understanding of an individual’s cultural identity which will in turn allow for a more accurate picture of a population.

We recommend that the topics should be ordered:

  • national identity
  • ethnic group
  • religion

Testing also 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, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish irrespective of their ethnic group.

Types of data collection this standard is suitable for

This harmonised standard is suitable for both self-complete (such as online or paper) and interviewer led (such as telephone or face-to-face) surveys.  

Using this question in the Welsh language

This harmonised standard was designed in the English language. At present we do not provide a Welsh language translation, as user demand for this standard is UK wide and Welsh language testing has not been completed to ensure a translation is comparable and appropriate. Harmonised standards based on Census research have been tested in the Welsh language, which is why we are able to provide Welsh versions of them. If you are interested in using a Welsh language version of a harmonised standard that has not been translated, please email gsshelp@statistics.gov.uk.

Presenting and reporting the data (outputs)

This section provides guidance for outputting the survey questions to use when collecting information about national identity.

Please note,  where “Irish” is combined with “Other” an explanatory note should be provided regarding the use of the “Irish” category in Northern Ireland. Figures should be provided as appropriate. 

Presentation for national identity data in GB and UK

National identityData
BritishX
EnglishX
ScottishX
WelshX
Northern IrishX
OtherX ( see note)

Presentation for national identity data in Northern Ireland (or the UK using the single UK question) 

National identityData
BritishX
EnglishX
ScottishX
WelshX
Northern IrishX
IrishX
OtherX

Comparability

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

England and Wales Census 2021 and Northern Ireland Census 2021

An initial review of the current harmonised standard on national identity and the Census 2021 national identity question for both the England and Wales and the Northern Ireland surveys suggests comparability. The main difference in the question design for the national identity question is that the response option “British” has been moved to the top of the response options on the questionnaire in England only. This change in not reflected in the harmonised standard.

Scotland Census 2022

The current harmonised standard on national identity in Scotland is broadly comparable with the national identity questions for the upcoming Scotland Census. In the current harmonised standard, the question asked in Scotland is “How would you describe your national identity?”. The question in Scotland Census is worded as “What do you feel is your national identity”. This wording differs in Scotland because testing prior to the 2011 Census indicated that the word “feel” assisted understanding of the question.

Related harmonised standards

Ethnicity harmonised standard

Religion harmonised standard

Contact

We are always interested in hearing from users so we can develop our work. If you use or produce statistics based on this topic, please email gsshelp@statistics.gov.uk.

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