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'Ethnicity' is the ethnic group or groups that people identify with or feel they belong to. Ethnicity is a measure of cultural affiliation, as opposed to race, ancestry, nationality or citizenship. Ethnicity is self-perceived and people can belong to more than one ethnic group.

Relationship to questionnaire(s)

Data on ethnicity comes from question 11 on the individual form (PDF 395kb).

Subject population

The subject population is the people, families, households or dwellings to whom the variable applies.

The subject population for this variable is the census night population, as this question applies to all people in New Zealand on census night. However, data on ethnicity is output for the census usually resident population.

Non-response rate

The 2006 non-response rate for the usually resident population was 4.0 percent.

The 2001 non-response rate for the usually resident population was 3.8 percent.

Quality Management Strategy priority level

Ethnicity is a foremost variable.

The Census Quality Management Strategy assigns a priority level to all census variables.

Foremost variables are core census variables that have the highest priority in terms of quality, time and resources across all phases of the 2006 Census.

All data must meet minimum quality standards in order to make it suitable for use.

Comparability with previous census data

Time series comparisons should include all four censuses from 1991 to 2006, as there are issues affecting the comparability of the 2006 data with the 1991, 1996 and 2001 Census data.

Changes in the 2006 Census:

Although the 2006 question was consistent with those used in 1991 and 2001, the output is not consistent, due to the revised classification used for the 2006 Census. For full details of the Statistical Standard for Ethnicity 2005 go to:

Classification changes for 2006 were:

  • For 2006, the 'Other' category has been split into two groups: 'Middle Eastern/Latin American/African' (MELAA); and 'Other Ethnicity', making six output groups instead of five. The 'Other Ethnicity' category includes groups previously classified as 'Other Other', as well as a separate category for 'New Zealander'. In 1991, 1996 and 2001, 'New Zealander' responses were included in the 'New Zealand European' category.
  • In 2006 and 2001, up to six ethnic responses were classified, compared with three in 1991 and 1996.
  • Public discussion about the term 'New Zealander' occurred during the months leading up to the 2006 Census. This may have had an impact on the 2006 ethnicity data. In 2006, 11.1 percent of respondents gave New Zealander as one of the responses to the ethnicity question, compared with 2.4 percent in 2001.

Changes in the 1991, 1996 and 2001 Censuses:

  • The concept that the ethnicity question is designed to measure is cultural affiliation. Statistics New Zealand research has shown that there was a shift in response patterns between 1991 and 1996. While some changes in response in 1996 could be attributed to the question wording rather than population changes, in general, 1996 is more closely comparable with 2001 and 2006 data than with the 1991 data. The key change between the 1991 and 1996 Censuses was an increase in people identifying more than one ethnicity, a consequent reduction in single responses, and the possibility that a larger proportion of respondents may have answered the 1996 question on the basis of their ancestry (descent) rather than their ethnicities (cultural affiliations). The main effect of the 1996 question on the data was a large increase in 'Other European' responses associated with the tick boxes provided, and, corresponding decreases for these ethnicities in 2001. The apparently large increase in responses of 'Māori' between 1991 and 1996 may reflect more about the 1991 data and the social changes that occurred in this period. For more information go to:
  • Changes were made in 1996 to the question wording, the instructions and the available tick boxes. The questions used in the 2001 and 2006 Censuses were consistent with the 1991 question, but the 1991 Census used the descriptor 'New Zealand Māori' rather than 'Māori'.
  • There has been a key change in the wording of the ethnicity question in the 1996 Census. This change affected the type of responses given and the comparability of the data over time. The 2001 and 2006 questions were almost the same as for 1991, but differ from the question used in 1996. For more information, go to

Significant issues

There are no other significant issues that users should be aware of.

Other things to be aware of

  • An individual can be counted in more than one ethnic group. However, if two or more of their ethnic groups fall into the same broad ethnic group category, then they are counted only once in that category in tables providing ethnicity data at that level.
  • Ethnicity data is output in three different ways:
    • 'total responses' – this type of output shows more detailed categories, such as English, Irish, Samoan, Tongan. A person whose ethnicities were, for example, English, Irish and Māori would be counted in each of these three categories. The total responses will therefore be greater than the subject population, as the individuals may be counted more than once.
    • 'grouped total responses' – this type of output uses the six Level 1 categories: European; Māori; Pacific peoples; Asian; Middle Eastern/Latin American/African, and Other Ethnicity. A person who reported their ethnicities as, for example, English, Irish and Māori will be counted once in the European category and once in the Māori category. As with total responses, the number of grouped total responses will be greater than the subject population, as individuals can provide more than one response.
    • 'single and combination responses' – this type of output has single categories for people who reported only one ethnicity, and combination categories for people who reported more than one ethnicity. People are counted once in the single or combination category that applies to them.
  • There has been an increase in the proportion of people stating multiple ethnicities. In 2001, 9.0 percent of respondents to the ethnicity question stated that they had more than one ethnicity. In 2006 this percentage rose to 10.4 percent.
  • A technical resource page for ethnicity, which is regularly updated with references and is aimed at those working with ethnicity data, contains further information:
  • All census data was subject to considerable checks (including edits) during processing and evaluation, to ensure that it meets quality standards and is suitable for use. These checks were applied to data supplied both on paper and on Internet forms. In addition to these quality checks, the Internet form had built-in editing functionality that directed respondents to the appropriate questions and ensured that their responses were valid. As a result of this, data from Internet forms may be of higher overall quality than data from paper forms. The significance of this will depend on the particular type of analysis being done.
  • There were differences between how the forms were completed on the Internet and on paper for this variable:
    • On the Internet, the ethnicity question had to be answered in order for the respondent to submit the form. Non-response to this question was possible when forms were completed on paper.
    • On the Internet, it was only possible to give text responses if 'other' was marked. When forms were completed on paper, it was possible to give a text response but not mark the 'other' tick box.
    • Responses in the text field on the Internet were limited in length.
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