The ethnicity question for the 1991 Census: background and issues

Ní Bhrolcháin, Máire (1990) The ethnicity question for the 1991 Census: background and issues Ethnic and Racial Studies, 13, (4), pp. 542-567. (doi:10.1080/01419870.1990.9993689).


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The Government announced on 13 November 1989 that an ethnicity question would be asked in the 1991 Census. The decision was taken following the favourable public response to the fielding of a new form of ethnicity question in the large-scale Census Test carried out in April 1989. The question asks the respondent to tick one box from among the following categories: White, Black-Caribbean, Black-African, Black-Other (with description), Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Any other ethnic group (with description). The 1991 Census will be the first British census to include an ethnicity question, though not the first for which such a question was proposed. The 1981 Census was to have had a question on race/ethnic group but the proposal was dropped following the unsuccessful trial of a question in the 1979 Census Test in Haringey. The absence of an ethnic-group question from the 1981 Census was a cause of concern to many connected with race relations and was extensively discussed following the decision to omit the question. An inquiry into the inclusion of an ethnicity question in the census was held by the Home Affairs Committee Sub-Committee on Race Relations and Immigration. The Sub-Committee's final report was published in 1983 and, together with the memoranda and verbal evidence presented to the Committee, gives a very full account of the issues in this area.

Item Type: Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): doi:10.1080/01419870.1990.9993689
ISSNs: 0141-9870 (print)
Keywords: Arguments both for and against the inclusion of an ethnicity question in the 1991 British census are presented. The article focuses especially on the uses of such data in a local context, with particular reference to local-authority uses. It strongly favours an ethnicity question and considers the arguments against to be either unfounded or outweighed by the substantial benefits to be gained from such a question. Next, the article outlines the history of the development of the 1991 Census question and considers the results of the 1989 Census Test. It then goes on to consider what changes have occurred since 1979 to make an ethnicity question a practical possibility now compared with a decade ago. In conclusion, some issues for the future are identified.
ePrint ID: 34342
Date :
Date Event
October 1990Published
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2008
Last Modified: 16 Apr 2017 22:13
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