New Zealanders and the Census

April 29th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

I agree with the Dom Post Editorial:

Statistics New Zealand has a problem. It is trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes.

The square pegs are the people who identified themselves as New Zealanders in the 2006 . The round holes are the ethnic categories into which it wants New Zealanders to divide themselves.

Three years ago 400,000 people ignored the categories set out in the census form and wrote New Zealander in the “other” category. By using other sources of information, Statistics NZ has been able to build up a picture of those who refused to tick its boxes. It says more than 90 per cent were of European origin and they tended to be male, slightly older, better off and better educated than the general population.

However, the government statistician warns, in a discussion document issued this week, that if the number who ignore its official classifications continues to grow, the data collected in future ethnicity surveys will be rendered unusable. Good.

I don’t go so far as to say that is good (as I am a major user of said statistics) but I think that many in society are saying they do not regard themselves as purely European. And in fact over time many New Zealanders will have a mixture of European, Asian, Maori and Pacific ancestry. As a country we inter-marry between ethnicities far more than others.

I know people who have British and Maori ancestry. They don’t identify as either European or Maori.

According to Statistics NZ, the data is vital for the development of public policy. It is used to address social and economic inequality associated with membership of particular ethnic groups. Perhaps policy makers could try just addressing disadvantage.

Statistics NZ also suggests those who define themselves as New Zealanders are confusing ethnic and national identity. They are not. It is Statistics NZ that is confused.

According to the government statistician, an ethnic group is one which shares some or all of the following characteristics: a common proper name; elements of common culture such as religion, customs or language; a unique community of interests, feelings and actions; a shared sense of common origins or ancestry; and a common geographic origin.

The reason growing numbers of people are choosing to identify themselves as New Zealanders is because that is what they are, not just in a legal sense, but in a cultural sense.

I think a reasonable case can be made that “New Zealander” is a new emerging ethnicity – not just a nationality.

They are a group whose members have a common proper name, New Zealanders; share a common language, a version of English in which Maori terms and phrases are becoming increasingly common; share common values and interests; and share common origins and ancestry. The majority were born in this country, as were the parents and grandparents of many. There is nowhere else that they call home and no other group of people with whom they identify more closely.

Many Maori words have become “mainstreamed” as part of NZ English.

If what Statistics NZ really wants to know is the racial composition of those who identify as New Zealanders, that is what it should ask for although it might not like the response.

And that may be the way forward. Ask one question on ethnicity and another on racial composition.

But if it is genuinely interested in the ethnic makeup of New Zealand, it should open its eyes. A unique national identity is taking shape. It is one that incorporates elements of Maori, European, Pacific and now Asian culture. Home for its members is not on the other side of the globe. It is here. The language that is spoken is not the Queen’s English or Samoan or Cantonese, it is New Zild. And the values held by its members are not the values of London or Apia or Hong Kong, but of the Hutt Valley, South Auckland, Southland and Wellington.

That is something to celebrate, not to fret about.

Not all New Zealanders would see their ethnicity as New Zealand. Many Maori identify primarly as Maori. First generation Asian immigrants indetify as Asian. The second and third generations far less so, I would say.

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45 Responses to “New Zealanders and the Census”

  1. Graeme Edgeler (3,216 comments) says:

    First generation Asian immigrants indetify as Asian.

    How many people do you really think identify as ‘Asian’?

    [DPF: Not many. But I used it as a group term for Chinese, Japanese, Korean etc. ]

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  2. david (2,482 comments) says:

    Just why is it important ???

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  3. spector (180 comments) says:

    “Just why is it important ???”

    Bureaucrats love charts and numbers. They can play with them for hours and then create policy using the numbers to back them up. Then when everything turns to shit they can go “It wasn’t my fault, the numbers must have been wrong”.

    That’s why whenever a census turns up at my place I draw a special box, write ‘fuck off’ next to it, tick the box and then send it back in.

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  4. Mr Nobody NZ (396 comments) says:

    Spector, you can also try filling it in in pencil (the lighter the better), or complete it and then glue the pages together.

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  5. GPT1 (2,042 comments) says:

    The two question model would seem to have some merit. It is interesting (if nothing else) to know “where we came from” but I would suggest that the emerging national identity is equally interesting.

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  6. vibenna (305 comments) says:

    They also refused to report that 53,000 people declared themselves to be Jedi in the 2001 census – there were more Jedi in New Zealand than there were Mormons.

    In my opinion statistics New Zealand should simply report the facts, rather than put a political or religious filter over them. It’s very poor form.

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  7. spector (180 comments) says:

    Graeme Edgeler (917) Vote: 1 0 Says

    How many people do you really think identify as ‘Asian’?

    You don’t understand Graeme, Asians hate to be referred too as Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Pakistani, Indian, Malaysian, Philippine, Indonesian, Singaporean, Cambodian, Vietnamese or Thai… etc. They all think exactly the same way as each other and live exactly the same lives with exactly the same beliefs so they prefer to be known collectively as Asian. This can of course be broken into two groups if necessary – Chinese (people that look like they could be in Kung Fu movies) or Indian (people that look like they could run dairys or drive taxis). The Japanese don’t mind being called Chinese because they look similar, and the Pakistanis don’t mind being referred to as Indian because they have a lot in common with India. Particularly Kashmir.

    It’s all quite obvious when you look at it from the point of view of a brilliant statistician.

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  8. spector (180 comments) says:

    Mr Nobody NZ (149) Vote: 0 0 Says:

    Spector, you can also try filling it in in pencil (the lighter the better), or complete it and then glue the pages together.

    mmmmm… nice.

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  9. Will de Cleene (485 comments) says:

    The USA is facing a similar conundrum with Hispanic as an ethnicity. Not only does this mingle Mayan and Spanish ethnic backgrounds, it is increasingly becoming the None of the Above for the uncertain mongrelisation of the people.

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  10. davidp (3,319 comments) says:

    Vibenna>They also refused to report that 53,000 people declared themselves to be Jedi in the 2001 census

    But, by definition, only two Sith.

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  11. EverlastingFire (290 comments) says:

    This is a non-issue.

    What bothers me is these people calling themselves ‘New Zealand European’ who have Maori/Asian or whatever relatives who were still alive less than 100 years ago or even since Europeans first arrived here.

    Australians of European ancestry identify themselves as ‘White Australian’, maybe that would be more accurate?

    I think we need a mixed category for the half-breeds too :)

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  12. davidp (3,319 comments) says:

    I’ve filled in New Zealander since I was a teenager back in the 80s. The question didn’t make sense either as a measure of nationality… I couldn’t select European since I’d never been there. Or as ethnicity… Europeans comprise all sorts of ethnic groups but were lumped together in the census, whereas the various Polynesian groups were split up in to countries of origin. Why?

    At the end of the day, are Stats asking us what we look like? If so, a few questions about skin colour, eye colour, hair colour, and eye shape might help them. But I have no idea why anyone would need to know this.

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  13. homepaddock (429 comments) says:

    The Stats Dept discussion paper on this says that people who put New Zealander are classified as European – does that mean that Maori, Asians and other people aren’t New Zealanders?

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  14. Paul Williams (867 comments) says:

    Someone up thread said “why this relevant”, and I think absent a meaningful response, Stats aren’t going to win this debate.

    Ethnicity can and often is important both to individuals and to institutions – public ones particularly. Ethnicity can be important in the development of services as ethnicity can inform consumer preferences. That said, it’s increasingly clear that “European” does not reconcile with individual perceptions. I wonder, too, if it really informs consumer preferences?

    I’d be happy with New Zealander because I think being a New Zealander says something about what we want and need and how we interact with institutions – it does even when you live in another country. I’d be equally happy with Pakeha as, to me, this simply means I’m from a group of people who’ve been here since 1840 or thereabouts, are no longer “from” somewhere else but aren’t the tangata whenua.

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  15. EverlastingFire (290 comments) says:

    I think ‘White New Zealand’ would be the most accurate, as long as we don’t get those people with great grand parents that were Maori ticking the box.

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  16. racer (258 comments) says:

    “spector
    That’s why whenever a census turns up at my place I draw a special box, write ‘fuck off’ next to it, tick the box and then send it back in.”

    I’m sure all the businesses that rely on accurate statistics thank you greatly.

    It’s not an area I know very much about, but what I assume, and have told various people who’ve asked is that I assume that they are counting every one with NZ citizenship or what ever as a New Zealander, but they are looking to know what proportion of ethnicites make up the “average New Zealander”.

    Strange though, I had always assumed the rise in people identifying as New Zealanders was coming from young people, but actually its those of “European origin and they tended to be male, slightly older, better off and better educated”, Interesting to see what you lot (an various other bloggers) make of that.

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  17. Mr Nobody NZ (396 comments) says:

    “I think ‘White New Zealand’ would be the most accurate, ”

    So should there be Brown New Zealander, Yellow New Zealander etc?

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  18. EverlastingFire (290 comments) says:

    “So should there be Brown New Zealander, Yellow New Zealander etc?”

    No. When I say ‘White New Zealander’ I’m talking about the same people who call themselves ‘NZ European’, those who identify themselves as being solely of European ancestry. Australians who identify solely with European ancestry call themselves ‘White Australians’, it seems more accurate to me. Americans do the same.

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  19. KiwiGreg (3,129 comments) says:

    “I’m sure all the businesses that rely on accurate statistics thank you greatly.”

    I’d be gob smacked if any business was relying on racial data.

    ““I think ‘White New Zealand’ would be the most accurate, ”

    So should there be Brown New Zealander, Yellow New Zealander etc?”

    The only “white” New Zealander I knew were albino twins at school. And they were from Tokelau. Pretty much everyone else is varying shades of pink and brown.

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  20. racer (258 comments) says:

    I was replying to the person who thinks that the whole census is a waste of time.

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  21. barry (1,317 comments) says:

    The reason that the stats people want this info is (this is besides their belief that numbers solve all problems) that the various goverment departments use the figures to divide up the money that is distributed to various ‘ethnic’ sections.

    Now this only means maori obviously – more money to areas with high maori populations – Northland, south auckland etc.

    You see it pisses them off when we call our selves ‘New Zealanders’ because that fucks up there racial split. And they do really get pissed off because they think numbers solve everything.

    But there is lots more in the census. Schools get their decile rating from the census. – Everyone loves to put their income down as higher than it is, but that results in higher decile ratings and then you have to hand out more to your local school because the lads and ladettes at NZ Stats send figures to the Ed Dept that results in less money being given to the school.

    SO – next census put yourself down as a pensioner and that might get your local school decile rating down.

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  22. goodgod (1,363 comments) says:

    What are the cultural traits of a New Zealander?

    Depends who you ask. And what of mainstream New Zealanders? Pretty useless categorisation isn’t it.

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  23. Chthoniid (1,966 comments) says:

    What businesses rely upon accurate stats collected from the Dept of Stats?

    A lot of census data is outdated before it is even published. If I want forestry stats, I go to Agri-fax. Their revenue is dependent on providing timely (i.e. monthly) information across all the stats they know I want, rather than some official statistician.

    IRD and Social Welfare have more accurate and up-to-date stats on income levels.

    Roading projects tend to be based on ‘on-the-spot’ flow studies, rather than the number of cars owned in an area.

    Schools don’t get built because of funding or objections from local residents under the RMA. They don’t fail to get built because someone miscounted the number of under 5′s five years ago.

    Most of the stats the census are not relevant for planning purposes. They’re intrusions of the state into the private lives of households.

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  24. racer (258 comments) says:

    “But there is lots more in the census. Schools get their decile rating from the census. – Everyone loves to put their income down as higher than it is, but that results in higher decile ratings and then you have to hand out more to your local school because the lads and ladettes at NZ Stats send figures to the Ed Dept that results in less money being given to the school.”

    Surely if everyone does then your going to end up with exactly the same shape of graph, but shifted on the income axis, and the money divided up in exactly the same proportions as it otherwise would have been?

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  25. Chthoniid (1,966 comments) says:

    I always understate my income in the census.

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  26. KiwiGreg (3,129 comments) says:

    “The reason that the stats people want this info is (this is besides their belief that numbers solve all problems) that the various goverment departments use the figures to divide up the money that is distributed to various ‘ethnic’ sections.”

    Mainly Corrections who base future prison demand essentially off the forecast increase in Maori and Pacific populations. Which is pretty sad really.

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  27. comsumist (59 comments) says:

    The reason this is such an issue is because what it’s really about is racial profiling, but everyone’s too PC to admit it.

    Really the stats department want to know what your’e racial group is, not what ethnicity you feel you emotionally belong too – ‘ethnicity’ being an amorphous emotional description about which societal group you identify with.

    How keeping stats on an ethnic group you emotionally indentify with is useful is beyond me.

    Census want figures that they can use in public health responses (for example) and the like. Knowing how many Samoan’s there are in a particular suburb of Auckland, or how many Maori in a small town in Gisborne and putting that together with the other information will help them formulate a health plan if that group is going to be poor, and possibly unhealthy. But that’s a racial thing, not an ethnic issue.

    If they wanted accurate information, they should have one box where you state your primary racial heritage (i.e. Maori, English (caucasian) etc, and two for your ethnicity – ie: New Zealand / English, NZ / Japanese, or Chinese (without) NZ. A bit complicated but the issues isn’t simple and like DPF says, it’s square pegs for round holes, but it’s also about being PC.

    Some people would do their nut if they thought the government was starting to racially profile the population – which is really what it is trying to do – for the best intentions (as usual).

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  28. Camryn (549 comments) says:

    Maybe just a color gradient square and we place a X on the right spot? :-P

    Wish I could fine better examples :-)
    http://rookery1.plime.com/storagev12/397000/397000_3e71_625x625.jpg
    http://epyon.bol.ucla.edu/normal.jpg

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  29. Camryn (549 comments) says:

    How about they just include a color gradient square and we place a X on the right spot? :-P

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  30. racer (258 comments) says:

    Or a Kiwiblog approved list: Gooks, spics, niggers, abbos, wogs, chinks ect?

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  31. spector (180 comments) says:

    racer (142) Vote: 0 4 Says:
    April 29th, 2009 at 11:09 am
    “spector
    That’s why whenever a census turns up at my place I draw a special box, write ‘fuck off’ next to it, tick the box and then send it back in.”

    I’m sure all the businesses that rely on accurate statistics thank you greatly.

    They should, I am a stat of people that don’t want to participate in answering their questions. There’s plenty of us around. About 8.76 percent of the population. I’m affectionately known as ‘the margin of error’

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  32. CraigM (692 comments) says:

    I love this editorial.

    “It is trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes. ”

    That, in a nutshell, describes bureaucracy.

    “It says more than 90 per cent were of European origin and they tended to be male, slightly older, better off and better educated than the general population.”

    Guilty as charged.

    I remember this discussion back when the results of the last census came out. There were a lot on here who thought that “us” ethnic NZers were nuts…..or just stupid. Nice to know that 399,999 agreeed with me.

    How far back does ethnicity go? Do Maori need to tick the “other” box and write Taiwanese?
    Do we all just tick other & write Africa?

    And just what the heck is a European anyway? last time I looked at a map there were a bunch of countries on that continent. None of which I identify with, being the true mongrel that I am.

    As stated in an earlier post, why differentiate between Asian & Polynesian races but not European? Do the bureaucrats really think that the Spanish and the Finnish are the same ethnicity? The Scots and the Dutch? And what about the Belgies, who wants to admit to having those genes? :-)

    Leave us slightly older, better off and better educated gentlemen to make our silent protest at each census. I will never tick anything other than : Ethnicity, other- New Zealander.

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  33. gd (2,286 comments) says:

    For a number of census I have crossed out the offerings and wrote New Zealander of English descent.

    Thats what I am and thats what I will always be and no anal retentive civil servant will change that

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  34. david (2,482 comments) says:

    which brings us back to:

    Are you – Maori

    or – Non-Maori

    tick one

    equally meaningless but shorter and to the point.

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  35. freethinker (648 comments) says:

    Stats need to explain the purpose of questions that have no obvious planning purposes otherwise they will either get no or inaccurate information from those who object to answering such questions which will increasingly lead to census based decisions becoming wrong.

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  36. Grant Michael McKenna (1,152 comments) says:

    What am I? I was born in South Africa, as were my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents- and almost all of my great-great-grandparents. I have ancestry from Madagascar, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, the USA [actually the Confederacy] and Russia- so am I to be called European? The most recent European in my ancestry was my great-great grandfather, an Irishman born in Scotland.
    The census [iirc] claimed that South African was an ethnicity, which bemused me somewhat at the time.
    I have British, Irish and South African citizenship, and residence rights in Kenya.

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  37. gazzmaniac (2,266 comments) says:

    I wrote down “Ginger” as my ethnicity.

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  38. a3catlady (58 comments) says:

    Stats seem to have overlooked that some of us can trace our ancestry in NZ back 5,6 or 7 generations (I am aware of ancestors who arrived here in 1839) and have as families, for a long time had no linkage/affiliation with Europe or elsewhere. What exactly am I meant to say my origins are when I identify as a New Zealander and hold a passport that describes me as a New Zealander. This is just crap – Will someone please tell me how far back I have to trace my origins to determine what “Ethnicity” I am.

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  39. Stuart Mackey (337 comments) says:

    # davidp (562) Vote: Add rating9 Subtract rating 0 Says:
    April 29th, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Vibenna>They also refused to report that 53,000 people declared themselves to be Jedi in the 2001 census

    But, by definition, only two Sith.

    Hmm, a master and an apprentice. To parliament you must go, strong in the dark side it is, find them you will.

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  40. gazzmaniac (2,266 comments) says:

    I wonder how many Vulcans and Klingons there are?

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  41. SlimShady (1 comment) says:

    Love how people think they know what they are talking about.

    “What businesses rely upon accurate stats collected from the Dept of Stats?”

    Plenty. It’s much bigger than just the census you know. Or maybe you don’t?

    “A lot of census data is outdated before it is even published. If I want forestry stats, I go to Agri-fax. Their revenue is dependent on providing timely (i.e. monthly) information across all the stats they know I want, rather than some official statistician.”

    And every survey you can think of relies on the census to benchmark and reweight.

    “IRD and Social Welfare have more accurate and up-to-date stats on income levels.”

    And you as a memeber of the public can access this data? No? Thought not.

    “Roading projects tend to be based on ‘on-the-spot’ flow studies, rather than the number of cars owned in an area.”

    Ask your local council why it’s important.

    “Most of the stats the census are not relevant for planning purposes. They’re intrusions of the state into the private lives of households.”

    Maybe you should be informing the thousands of people who are using it precisely for planning purposes because you obviously have a secret there that a great number of councils, businesses and government ministries are oblivious to.

    I say bring back the term pakeha. At least the debate might be somewhat better than the drivel above.

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  42. Southern Raider (1,367 comments) says:

    My ancestors arrived in about 1860. So thats 6 generations in NZ.

    I can’t by right live in any other country. I have no foreign passport. I have no allegiance to any ethnic grouping. I don’t expect any special treatment or need any help adjusting to NZ.

    So what am I supposed to select other than “New Zelander”.

    I think it is a valid category. They only really need ethnic information for those who need specialist educational, mental, medical or financial help. The ones that tick “New Zealander” don’t need this special treatment and just get on with life.

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  43. thedavincimode (6,113 comments) says:

    spector / Mr Nobody

    Thanks for the tips. Sadly, I’ve been so lacking in imagination that I just don’t answer the door for 3 months. Bit of a bastard when I’ve ordered a takeaway delivery.

    Can’t wait to implement new system.

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  44. Fletch (5,719 comments) says:

    “You fill out my census
    Come love me againnnn…”

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  45. CJasper (9 comments) says:

    come 2011, I’ll be doing the same thing I’ve done the last 6 census’

    Ethnicity:
    Other – New Zealander

    And for the last 3 census’

    Languages Spoken
    Other – New Zild

    Imagine 11.2% of the population speaking New Zild. That’d really get their knickers in a twist.

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