Volume 44 - Article 21 | Pages 481–512  

Classifying multiple ethnic identifications: Methodological effects on child, adolescent, and adult ethnic distributions

By Esther S. Yao, Kane Meissel, Pat Bullen, Polly Atatoa Carr, Terryann Clark, Susan Morton


Background: The burgeoning global multi-ethnic population, in conjunction with the importance of accurate ethnic group counts for research and policy purposes, make classification of multiple ethnic responses a complex but important issue. There are numerous possible classification approaches, differing in ethical implications and ease of statistical application.

Objective: This study empirically examines the validity and consistency of three comparatively accessible ethnic classification methods (total response, administrative-prioritisation, and self-prioritisation) in increasingly ethnically diverse age cohorts (adults, adolescents, and children).

Methods: We utilised secondary data from two large-scale studies in Aotearoa/New Zealand which asked children (N = 6,149; responded via mother proxy), adolescents (N = 8,464), and adults (N = 11,210) to select (1) all the ethnicities they identified with, and (2) their main ethnicity. The data were coded, then analysed using descriptive statistics and z-tests for proportional differences.

Results: The majority of multi-ethnic participants were able to select a main ethnic group when required, but around 20% could not or refused to do so, and there was over 60% discrepancy between self-prioritised ethnicity and administrative-prioritised ethnicity. Differences by age group and ethnic combination were apparent. Comparison of overall ethnic group proportions outputted by the three classification methods revealed within-group variation, particularly where there were higher rates of multi-ethnic identification.

Contribution: This study empirically demonstrates that researchers’ choice of ethnic classification method can have a strong influence on ethnic group proportions. Researchers should therefore select the classification method most appropriate for their research question and clearly report the method employed.

Author's Affiliation

Most recent similar articles in Demographic Research

Racial classification as a multistate process
Volume 50 - Article 17    | Keywords: Brazil, demography, increments to life, life expectancy, life table, mortality, multistate, race/ethnicity

Black–white intermarriage in global perspective
Volume 49 - Article 28    | Keywords: endogamy, ethnicity, intermarriage, modernization, race/ethnicity

The COVID-19 pandemic’s unequal socioeconomic impacts on minority groups in the United States
Volume 47 - Article 33    | Keywords: access to mental health services, COVID-19, employment income loss, food shortage, housing insecurity, race/ethnicity

Does race response shift impact racial inequality?
Volume 47 - Article 30    | Keywords: Brazil, earnings, income, race/ethnicity, racial inequality

The bootstrap approach to the multistate life table method using Stata: Does accounting for complex survey designs matter?
Volume 47 - Article 23    | Keywords: complex survey, Health and Retirement Study (HRS), health expectancies, multistate life tables, race/ethnicity, Stata