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The Measurement of Ethnicity. Julie Lamb Department of Sociology University of Surrey. The Session. Defining ethnicity Problems of measuring the concept The measurement of ethnicity: theory The measurement of ethnicity: collecting data Labour Force Survey Census of Population

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the measurement of ethnicity

The Measurement of Ethnicity

Julie Lamb

Department of Sociology

University of Surrey

the session
The Session
  • Defining ethnicity
  • Problems of measuring the concept
  • The measurement of ethnicity: theory
  • The measurement of ethnicity: collecting data
    • Labour Force Survey
    • Census of Population
    • Fourth National Survey of Ethnic Minorities
    • Home Office Citizenship Survey
  • Criticisms of ethnic measurement
  • Exercise
defining ethnicity
Defining ethnicity
  • Bulmer 1996: (Group identity)

“An ethnic group is a collectivity within a larger population having real or putative common ancestry, memories of a shared past, and a cultural focus upon one or more symbolic elements which define the group’s identity, such as kinship, religion, language, shared territory, nationality or physical appearance. Members of an ethnic group are conscious of belonging to the group”

(Bulmer 1996)

  • Smaje 1994 (Group difference)

“In its original usage to be ethnic was to be heathen. Deriving form the Greek word ethnos – nation – contemporary usage has often preserved the exclusionary sentiments implicit in this conflation of religion and nationality. To be ethnic is to be different, foreign and marginal: ‘not one of us’”.

(Smaje 1994)

ethnic groups
Ethnic groups
  • Main features:
    • Different from the majority of the population – i.e. in Britain ‘White’ is the majority group.
    • Many different factors involved in belonging to a group – i.e. language, religion
    • Family origins and generations
    • May vary over time – society / political
    • Therefore measurement of ethnic group is not objective – based on self definition
different ways of measuring ethnicity
Different ways of Measuring Ethnicity
  • Most measures based on categorisations
  • Categorisations are based on a number of considerations:
      • Country of Birth
      • Nationality
      • Language spoken at home
      • Parents country of birth / respondents country of birth
      • Skin Colour
      • National / Geographical Origin
      • Racial Group
      • Religion
country of birth
Country of Birth
  • The original question to determine ethnicity / origin
  • Problematical because many people are born in one country and live in another for years
  • Implies that migrants cease to be a minority once they have citizenship of a country
  • BUT it is clear that minority groups continue to have different cultures and disadvantage for years after entry.
language spoken at home
Language spoken at home
  • Effective for some minority groups
  • Common question in national surveys, but mainly to match an interviewer to respondent
  • But becoming less useful because of 2nd generation
parents country of birth country of birth
Parents country of birth / country of birth
  • Used as a proxy variable for ethnic group
  • Usually asked alongside ethnic group question
  • Again problems with intergenerational movement
  • Many ethnic minorities are now born in UK
skin colour
Skin Colour
  • Majority referred to as ‘white’ in most questions
  • Term ‘black’ problematic for obvious reason but also does not distinguish between groups e.g. Indians and Bangladeshis
  • Used in conjunction with other terms
national geographical origin
National / Geographical Origin
  • May be used in terms such as West Indian
  • Often used in conjunction with skin colour – Black African
  • But Africa is a big place:

“I’m not African because it’s undermining that Africa is a continent, you know what I mean, they’re saying ‘what's your ethnic background?’. African it’s actually wrong because for me, someone from Senegal to someone from South Africa, we got absolutely, I mean absolutely no ethnic, anything in common apart from the colour of our skin, end of line you know? Like I’ll go today to South Africa, I’ll be surprised how they live” (Scottish Executive 2005: 66)

racial group
Racial Group
  • Race:

“1 Each of the major divisions of humankind, each having distinct physical characteristics. 2 Group of people, animals or plants connected by common descent” (Oxford Dictionary)

  • Used in group terminology e.g. Chinese, Arab
  • Very important defining characteristic for SOME minority groups
  • Religion question added to the 2001 Census (voluntary)
  • Does being part of the Muslim religion make you similar to other Muslims regardless of ethnic group?
important considerations
Important considerations
  • Ethnicity is not a static concept
  • Ethnic group is a self defined category
  • Cannot measure ethnicity using objective categories in the same way as gender / marital status etc
modes of interview
Modes of Interview
  • HOW you ask about ethnicity will depend on:
    • Minority group that you are studying
    • Mode of the data collection
    • What you are doing with the data
    • Time / money and language
ons rules for ethnic classifications
ONS Rules for ethnic classifications
  • Items should be grouped on a conceptual basis
  • Categories should reflect and distinguish between significant ethnic groups in place of study
  • They should be stable over time
  • They should be designed to be used in different modes of collection
  • They should be easily comparable with previous data / statistics on the subject
  • Every response to the question should fit into a category

(Ethnic Group Statistics, ONS 2003:8)

face to face interviews
Face to Face Interviews
  • Preferred method BUT very expensive and time consuming.
  • Should the interviewer be matched by ethnic group to the respondent?
  • Finding a sample for large survey may be difficult for small minority groups
  • Statistics are available for large surveys – e.g. Census / LFS
postal self completion
Postal / Self Completion
  • Difficult to identify minority groups using this method
  • Language and terminology problems
  • McIver 1994 “Surveys of the general population using postal self completion questionnaires usually fail to collect the views of black people” (McIver 1994:22)
questions and categories
Questions and Categories
  • Question order found to be important in testing by ONS
  • Should ask about National Identity before ethnic group
  • Order of categories is important and should be changed depending on where the survey is being carried out
  • Response found to be sensitive to the way the question asked – show cards should be used.
measurement of ethnicity in practice
Measurement of ethnicity in practice
  • Census asked first direct question on ethnic group in 1991
  • First survey to measure ethnic group 1976 National Dwelling and Housing Survey
  • Labour Force Survey began using an ethnicity question continuously in 1979 – focus was on descent:
labour force survey 1979
Labour Force Survey 1979

‘From which of these groups listed on this card do you consider you are descended?’

00 English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish

01 Polish

02 Italian

03 Other European

04 West Indian or Guyanese

05 African

06 Indian

07 Pakistani

08 Bangladeshi

09 Arab

10 Chinese

11 Any other racial or ethnic group or of mixed racial descent

12 No reply

labour force survey
Labour Force Survey
  • Asks questions on Nationality, National Identity, Ethnicity, Language and Religion
  • Very large sample so possible to identify minority groups
  • The questions……
census of population
Census of Population
  • Prior to 1991 only question on country of birth used since 1861
  • Development work for a question on ethnicity began in 1975
  • Aim was “to frame a satisfactory direct question on race and ethnicity involving self identification” (Bulmer 1996)
  • See Bulmer 1996 for full account
census ctd
Census ctd…
  • Differences in questions in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • The question in 1991 (first use)
  • Issues:
    • No mixed category
    • Under count evident in 1991
    • Some groups not identified, eg Cypriot, Arab
census 2001
Census 2001
  • Main development was addition of a ‘mixed origin’ question
  • Added voluntary question on religion
  • Differences in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • The questions….
fnsem 1994
FNSEM 1994
  • 4th study in a series from PSI since 1960
  • “..only large scale national studies designed exclusively with the aim of increasing our knowledge about the circumstances of ethnic minorities” (Modood et al 1997)
  • Sample and key findings checked against 1991 census data
fnsem ctd
FNSEM ctd…
  • Key topics:
    • Education
    • Employment
    • Housing
    • Income
    • Health
    • Harrassment
    • Ethnic identity
  • Nationally representative sample of 5196 people of Caribbean and Asian origin and a comparison sample of 2867 white people.
  • 1991 census used to break down electoral wards into three categories of ethnic minority population: high, medium and low
  • Addresses then sampled from each area
  • Interviewers called at sampled addresses to identify any members of minority groups living there or within 5 addresses either side
  • One or two (if existing) adults at each address were selected for interview at random
  • Interviewer from same minority sent to carry out the questionnaire – in English or the preferred language (half of the Asian respondents used a language other than English for the interview)
fnsem methodology ctd
FNSEM Methodology ctd..
  • Coverage confined to England and Wales
  • Asked about family origin;
  • “Our own view is that family origin is a better basis for demographic analysis than self-assigned group membership. Family origin is in most cases a matter of fact …. Group membership is a matter of opinion” (Modood et al 1997:14)
  • Used family origin as first criterion for assigning people to ethnic groups
  • Asked about mixed heritage
the questions
The Questions…
  • In Household Grid
    • Country of birth
    • Ethnic group
    • Family origins
home office citizenship survey
Home Office Citizenship Survey
  • Also known as People, Families and Community Survey 2001
  • Asks questions to whole sample on racial discrimination and respect of other cultures
  • The questions……
criticisms of ethnic statistics
Criticisms of ethnic statistics
  • Smaje 1994:
    • By providing attention to different ethnic groups, the groups themselves become a problem
    • People do not always classify themselves in the same way
    • The concept of ethnicity changes over time
    • The notions of race, ethnicity and nationality are conflated together
    • The data categories are not refined enough to be useful
last word from len cook
Last word from Len Cook…

Source: Ethnic Group Statistics 2003:4