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The utility and validity for public health of ethnicity categorisation in the 1991, 2001 and 2011 British censuses

Aspinall, Peter J. (2011) The utility and validity for public health of ethnicity categorisation in the 1991, 2001 and 2011 British censuses. Public Health, 125 (10). pp. 680-687. ISSN 0033-3506. (doi:10.1016/j.puhe.2011.05.001) (KAR id:28639)



To evaluate the utility and validity of the ethnicity categorizations across the 1991, 2001 and 2011 British Censuses for public health purposes.

Study design

Narrative review.


A review of journal literature and census and other policy reports was undertaken to assess specified criteria for the utility and validity of the 1991, 2001 and 2011 Censuses for public health.


The census ethnicity categorization satisfactorily captures the ethnic diversity of the population, and adheres to the principle of self-identification in the labels used and underlying conceptual base. The stability of some of the categories (especially ‘Black’ groups and ‘Mixed’) continues to be problematic for public health. Concealed heterogeneity has been partially addressed in the ‘White’ group but remains in the ‘Black African’ group. Colour categories (‘White’ and ‘Black’) have been retained in the 2011 Census, with only limited objection amongst the communities they describe.


The complexity of the classifications and range of data on the dimensions of ethnicity have increased over the three decades. The breakdown of the ‘Black African’ group, the shortcomings of ‘Mixed’ categorization, and the way in which the ‘White’ category is subdivided require further investigation.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1016/j.puhe.2011.05.001
Uncontrolled keywords: Census; Classification; Categorization; Ethnic diversity; Self-identification
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research > Centre for Health Services Studies
Depositing User: Tony Rees
Date Deposited: 31 Jan 2012 15:43 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2021 10:06 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Aspinall, Peter J..

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