Census miscounts NZers still

The census, which was cancelled in 2011 after the February earthquake in Christchurch, is taking place in a couple of months.

It will be very like the 2006 one which allowed us to  choose New Zealander as our ethnicity, but only in the other category.

A review of the official ethnicity statistical standard was initiated by Statistics NZ in 2008, after ‘New Zealander’ responses in the last census rose to 11.1 percent, from 2.4 percent in 2001. The scope of the review was wider than census but was used in conjunction with the census cognitive testing and research programme in decision-making for the 2011 Census. For more information about the research completed by the review and what this involved, see the Final Report of a Review of the Official Ethnicity Statistical Standard 2009.

In the review, most key users of census data stated that the format of the census ethnicity question should remain unchanged. They emphasised the importance of consistency in statistics across the Official Statistics System and the comparability of the ethnicity measure over time. These views reflect concerns that even a minor change in a questionnaire’s format can have unintended but significant impacts on responses and subsequent statistical outputs.
Some submissions to the review expressed a desire for greater visibility for ‘New Zealander’ responses. As with outputs from the 2006 Census, this will be done by having ‘New Zealander’ as a separate category (under ‘Other’) in several of the 2011 Census outputs. For an example of how ‘New Zealander’ responses in the 2006 Census were output, see QuickStats About a Place on the Statistics NZ website.   . .

The importance of consistency is obvious if those who use statistics are to be able to make comparisons between one census and another.

But some things change and cultural identity is one of those.

My mother used to refer to Britain as Home, even before she’d been there. That wasn’t uncommon for her generation and they probably didn’t think twice about claiming European ethnicity.

That is no longer the case for most of us.

Although, when you look at the definition of ethnicity, I’m not sure it ever really was:

Ethnicity refers to 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 affiliate with more than one ethnic group.

An ethnic group is made up of people who have some or all of the following characteristics:

  • a common proper name 
  • one or more elements of common culture which need not be specified, but may include religion, customs, or language
  • unique community of interests, feelings, and actions
  •  a shared sense of common origins or ancestry 
  • a common geographic origin.

If ethnicity is a measure of cultural affiliation, as opposed to race, ancestry, nationality or citizenship why are the choices for ethnicity New Zealand European, Maori, Samoan, Cook Island Maori, Tongan, Niuean, Chinese, Indian, Other such as Dutch, Japanese, Tokelauan?

All of those seem to owe at least as much to race, ancestry, nationality or citizenship as they do to culture.

If some of us are supposed to be European New Zealanders, which particular European culture are we affiliated to?

I like Spain and its culture, I lived there for three months and have been back three times since then. But I couldn’t claim to have Spanish ethnicity and have even less connection to the many other European cultures.

Given the diversity of Europe it would be difficult to claim a cultural connection to it as a whole. If I identify with any culture outside New Zealand it would be, thanks to my tartan gene, the Scottish one. Scotland is now, thanks to EU membership politically aligned to Europe but that is very different from cultural affiliation.

The form acknowledges this by giving Dutch as an example under other.

Why do only those who regard themselves as having a European cultural affiliation get to claim to be New Zealanders?

It suggests that it isn’t culture but skin colour which matters.

It’s discriminatory and insulting that people of Maori, Samoan, Cook Island Maori, Tongan, Niuean, Chinese, Indian or any other descent don’t count as New Zealanders except under other.

I have a great niece and great nephew born here whose father is a Kiwi and mother is Argentinean. They are too young to define their cultural affiliation now but I am quite sure it wouldn’t be European.

The more I travel the more I am aware of New Zealand culture which includes elements of different cultures and races but which transcends them, recognises what we have in common and unites us as New Zealanders.

Consistency is important in censuses but so too is accuracy and the ethnic category is no longer accurate for our multi-cultural country.

The Australian census has New Zealander as an ethnic category.

It’s more than time we did too, recognising  New Zealander as category and not lost as a footnote among the others.

4 Responses to Census miscounts NZers still

  1. Captain Fantastic says:

    I can remember many years ago my father, my grandfather and myself, (a mere school boy then, barely into double digits ), were picking up some beef that had been processed at a butcher shop. The butcher was English, going by his accent. On the way back home, my grandfather casually asked as to who the homie was ? Listening from the back seat I was stunned and startled. The butcher did not appear to any extent effeminate or mincing, (bad pun here).
    It was years later, I realised that my grandad was referring to one who had come from “back home”, i.e. Great Britain.

  2. It seemed very strange when I saw that the New Zealand census recognised Australian as an ethnicity, but seemed to think New Zealander could only be a nationality.

  3. Denny says:

    It’s insulting to anyone who describes their ethnicity as New Zealand. It’s as if New Zealand only exists as a country. I believe New Zealanders have a unique identity. As a New Zealander I feel a strong connection with the land and water, embrace people regardless of gender, race, age, nationality, colour culture, and celebrate differences. I enjoy our mountains, pastures, bush, beaches, rivers and lakes and want to preserve them for others. Every day I meet people who enjoy these same things, are easy-going yet work hard, enjoy life, yet don’t forget others who are less fortunate. I think that there are plenty of things that allow us to describe our ethnicity as New Zealand

  4. homepaddock says:

    Yes me too. Time for a campaign to make the census count us.

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