The government added 2 additional options for ethnicity in the 2021 Census: ‘Roma’ and ‘Black British Other’. However, they rejected 53 out of 55 requests for more categories!
Following the 2011 Census the government engaged in a consultation in 2015 with several organisations and individuals over whether they needed to increase the number of ethnic categories. Based on feedback from 46 organisations and 86 individuals, most of them found the existing categories acceptable, but they received 55 requests for more categories.
Some of the examples of requests for new categories included Somali, Jewish and Kashmiri.
Of these 55 requests, only two changes were judged to be worth including in the 2021 Census:
- Including a separate ‘ROMA’ tick box under the ‘White’ category, rather than putting this together with GYPSY.
- Including an ‘other’ BLACK category besides AFRICAN and CARIBBEAN, and allowing respondents to write in details.
The board of Census experts made their decisions to accept the above two changes for new ethnic categories. They used a standard evaluation procedure in which each category was scored the basis of:
- User need: was there a need to gather more specific information (easily) on the specific new categories of ethnic group?
- Lack of alternative information: was there no where else information could be found out about the suggested new group? (This was the case with the Roma category).
- Clarity of data collection: some categories were rejected because of too much overlap. For example, offering a ‘Kashmiri’ option would probably reduce the number of people ticking ‘Indian’ or ‘Pakistan’. Some of the people who ticked ‘Kashmiri’ would identify as BOTH Pakistani and Kashmiri, or both Indian and Kashmiri.
- Consistency with the 2011 Census: taking reliability and comparison with previous data into account.
In many cases the Census team decided ethnicity information was already covered already in the ‘religion’ section or by simply allowing respondents to write in their responses would yield sufficient information compared to a fresh tick box.
Current list of ethnicity options in the 2021 UK Census…
Analysis of changes to ethnicity options: disrespecting Diversity?
It feels a little like The Census paid lip service to this process rather than seriously considering increasing the number of available categories.
They sampled less than 100 individuals outside of formal organisations. Of these, 40% of respondents requested a change, which is significant, and then rejected most of these.
I imagine the reason for this was practical: once you start increasing the number of ethnicity options the form rapidly becomes impractically long. For example, if you included ‘Somali’, it seems a bit unfair to not include every African subcategory, which would mean dozens more boxes, and so on for every other suggestion.
Having an ethnicity section with possibly 200 options would simply be off putting. Allowing respondents to write in their responses means they’ve already covered the ‘inclusion’ aspect.
In terms of data analysis, when the Census is online, it’s easy enough to filter by written-in responses.
Having said that it is worth noting that the Census probably tells us very little about identity. It doesn’t tell us what ethnicity means to the respondents.
Signposting and sources
This material is mainly relevant to the Culture and Identity option, usually taught in the first year of A-level sociology.
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