Counting Kiwis

Suzanne Levy has spotted a problem with the way StatisicsNZ counts people:

In November 2021, the Department of Statistics sought feedback on their LGBTQ Statistics reporting changes. These proposed changes included collecting sex and gender data but using the “gender as the default” method for reporting…

The result seemed to be that there was no way to differentiate between a lesbian and a man who said he was a same-sex attracted woman. . . .

That also means there appears to be no way to differentiate between people born female and those born male who choose the feminine gender.

An email from StatsNZ says

Consistent with the “gender by default” principle set out in the “Statistical standard for gender, sex, and variations of sex characteristics”, this includes all adult respondents who indicated that their gender is female.  . .

Why does that matter?:

Yep – so that’s a problem and it is incredibly homophobic to record a male as a lesbian, regardless of how he sees himself. Stats are collected to help with planning and various things – what use is this statistic if it doesn’t count the group that it claims to? The group that any reasonable person would assume was being counted in this data? How can we consider health needs of lesbians if we don’t know who they are? Should we be suggesting prostate cancer checks or cervical smears? Changing the meaning of the word female to include biological males is nonsense and will create meaningless statistics.

It also distorts reality, and the data on which important decisions are based, if people born one sex are counted under a different gender.

If more biological males identify as women than biological females identify as men, it could help funding for female specific needs. But the reverse could also be true and government decisions should not be based on dodgy data about what people feel rather than what they are.

It’s not only gender that isn’t counted accurately. Hilary Calvert says StatsNZ’s simplification of ethnicity is inaccurate and unreliable:

. . . One of the questions we are asked in the census is about which ethnicity we identify with. This question involves self identification, and allows us to choose more than one if we identify with several different ethnicities. It is contrasted on the Stats NZ website with race, nationality, ancestry and citizenship.

In the past, Stats NZ then took the answers we provided and blatantly just changed them, according to a hierarchical model whereby if any of the options you chose were, say, Maori, then you would be described as Maori and your other options would effectively disappear. (How it categorised the 400,000 people who recently described themselves as “New Zealanders” when asked this question, I have not been able to get to the bottom of.)

Apparently, this has changed recently in the raw data.

But Stats NZ still takes our answers and twists them to eliminate any reference to more than one ethnicity.

On November 17, 2022, it issued a press release headed “Maori population estimates at 30 June 2022”, saying that during the June 2022 year the Maori ethnic population grew by 17,200. It went on to say that at June 30, 2022, New Zealand’s estimated Maori ethnic population was 892,200 (17.4% of national population).

Starting with us answering questions about who we identify as, accepting multiple answers, Stats NZ turns our answers into a single answer.

Having chosen which of our answers it prefers, it then somehow turns ethnicity into race by headlining the press release as ” Maori population estimates …”

Based on these “statistics”, we now have commentators saying the number of Maori seats in Parliament should change.

We have the government and others making comparisons between prison populations and school achievement based on what could be vastly different ideas of which singular race we have been assigned to — or which ethnicity, since the distinction has been fudged. . . 

This matters not just for how many Maori seats there are also but for a whole lot of decisions on policies and funding.

Having been given the task of providing our baseline information, Stats NZ is then influencing the government to make far-ranging choices about where our money is spent and how it arranges its departments.

A major challenge for any government is to improve the outcomes, and in fact the chances of good outcomes, for those who are being held back. And it is indisputable that outcomes for New Zealanders are too often connected to our race and ethnicity.

And we aspire to having ethnic equality by having outcomes being the same across all ethnicities.

However, improving all poor outcomes is a different aim from the aspiration of achievements being available to us equitably across all races and ethnicities.

The racial aspiration will not be achieved while we fudge figures about ethnicity.

We need to understand how best to deal with the position that many New Zealanders are of mixed race, and how to see what part race and ethnicity play in outcomes when we acknowledge our mixed race and mixed ethnicity.

Then we need to understand whether we can compare the census answers with descriptions of the ethnicity or race of people who turn up at hospital or in education or in the prison population. Or how we conflate those who choose to be on the Maori roll with those who describe their ethnicity as including Maori when we decide how many Maori seats are fair in Parliament. Or who might be involved as self-appointing co-governance “partners”.

The pretence that we are each of one ethnicity only will not serve us well. It is encouraging racism by the government always choosing to describe people as Maori whenever bad outcomes are being discussed.

We need good and accurate information if we want race and ethnicity to play a reduced role in determining the future of a child in New Zealand.

Or we could focus on improving outcomes for all who are being held back by others and by societal choices, knowing and appreciating that this will benefit disproportionately those who identify at least in part as Maori.

I have another problem with ethnicity – that those of us who identify as New Zealander (as distinct from New Zealand European) come way down the list under other, and then get lumped under Pākehā or European by StatsNZ, neither of which are ethnicities and apply only to Kiwis of one race.

Few if any people in Europe would put European if asked their ethnicity so why is this outdated them used on the other side of the world? And what about all those Kiwis whose ancestors came from Asia, Africa, Latin America or the Middle East?

Ethnicity is much more than race and it’s high time New Zealanders were counted as New Zealanders regardless of our race or from where our ancestors came.

2 Responses to Counting Kiwis

  1. pdm1946 says:

    mrspdm and I have been inserting New Zealander under the `Other’ category for at least the last 10 years on any form we complete – whether for Government or Private Sector use..

    It is past time New Zealander was included as an option in all Census and other forms.


  2. […] article – posted today on Homepaddock – draws attention to contentious data-collecting issues raised by the way StatisticsNZ counts […]


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