1.3.2 Differences in definitions and attribution of ethnicity

An issue creating added complexity within this field is the range of ways in which ethnicity is conceptualised, defined and measured. It has been suggested that ethnicity can be identified in three main ways 1 :

  • on the basis of lineage, or whakapapa
  • through descent because of some M?ori ancestry
  • self-identification, on the basis of cultural identification.

In the criminal justice system another approach to definition is sometimes adopted - ethnicity as judged by the observer/recorder, based on the physical appearance of the subject. This approach occurs when information is recorded from victims or witnesses to crimes, and occasionally by police officers on patrol or making arrests. In practice, many situations arise where it is impossible, or impractical, to assess ethnicity according to statistically standard processes, and the field on the form is left blank, or filled in by a “best guess”.

The Official Statisticial Standard for Ethnicity in New Zealand utilises one or other of the first three definitions listed above, sometimes both. A further complexity arises however in the use of self-reported defintions, in that individuals may vary their

self-reported ethnicity, subject to the specific question they have been asked, whether options are given, and the context. Self-attribution of ethnicity can also change over an individual’s life span. For instance, an obvious transition point may occur between the ethnicity reported for a child by their parent, and their own view as as they become old enough to have an independent view. These issues are especially pertinent for longitudinal studies, and when individuals are studied within family/whanau or community context.

Issues also arise from the degree of ethnic intermarriage in New Zealand. More than 60% of pre-schoolers of M?ori ethnicity have at least one more ethnicity 2. Census statistics for 2006 show 14.6% of the total population as having M?ori ethnicity, but 42.2 % of this group stated that they identified with European ethnic groups as well, 7.0 percent with Pacific peoples ethnic groups, and 1.5 percent with Asian ethnic groups. 2.3 percent also gave 'New Zealander' as one of their ethnic groups. This is a longer standing issue than often acknowledged – a detailed examination of marriages by M?ori in Auckland in 1960 indicated almost half were to Pakeha 3. Given the ethnic diversity of New Zealand society, it is always important to consider when, and why, someone is being described as M?ori, rather than non-M?ori, when they are of mixed ancestry 4.

Many issues arise from these differences in perceived and recorded definitions of ethnicity which are highly relevant to the issues covered in this report 5. The significance of different collection methods is problematic especially when calculating population-based rates, where there is reason to think the ethnicity of the individuals being described has been assessed differently from the population based definition. However these problems are beyond the scope of this present report, and we can do no more than acknowledge the need to exercise care over definitions used, particularly when data from different sources or time periods is being compared.

1 Fergusson, D, (2003c) “Ethnicity and Interpersonal Violence in a New Zealand Birth Cohort” in Violent Crime: Assessing Race and Ethnic Differences, (Ed.) Hawkins, DF, Cambridge University Press, pp. 138 – 153.

2 Statistics NZ, 2001 census figures.

3 Research by John Harre, published in 1966 and 1972, cited by Pool I, Dharmalingham a and Sceats J (2007) The New Zealand Family from 1840: A Demographic History p205.

4 Kukutai, T. (2004) ‘The problem of defining an ethnic group for public policy: Who is M䯲i and does it matter?’ Social Policy Journal of New Zealand 23:86–108. http://www.msd.govt.nz/publications/journal/23-december-2004/23-pages86-108.html

5 Simone Bull (2001) The land of murder, cannibalism, and all kinds of atrocious crimes? An overview of "M?ori crime" from pre-colonial times to the present day, PhD thesis, Victoria University of Wellington. Difficulties relating to ethnic identification and changing definitions, in criminal justice statistics are well covered; see particularly the first and last chapters.