List of ethnic groups

In England and Wales, there are 18 ethnic groups recommended for use by government when they ask for someone’s ethnicity. These are grouped into 5 broad ethnic groups, each with an ‘Any other’ option where respondents can write in their ethnicity using their own words.

The recommended ethnic groups are:

White

  • English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish / British
  • Irish
  • Gypsy or Irish Traveller
  • Any other White background

Mixed / Multiple ethnic groups

  • White and Black Caribbean
  • White and Black African
  • White and Asian
  • Any other Mixed / Multiple ethnic background

Asian / Asian British

  • Indian
  • Pakistani
  • Bangladeshi
  • Chinese
  • Any other Asian background

Black / African / Caribbean / Black British

  • African
  • Caribbean
  • Any other Black / African / Caribbean background

Other ethnic group

  • Arab
  • Any other ethnic group

In Wales, the first option in the White broad category is changed so that Welsh appears first in the list, followed by English, Scottish, Northern Irish and British.

See statistics on the population of England and Wales broken down by ethnicity.

How the groups were chosen

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) runs the Census of England and Wales every 10 years. They decide which ethnic groups to include in consultation with:

  • users of Census data (like government departments, local authorities, and the National Health Service)
  • people completing the Census, and the interest groups that represent them

It is recognised that these ethnic groups do not represent how all people identify. People are encouraged to write in their ethnicity using their own words if they don’t identify with any groups in the list.

There has been an ethnicity question in the Census since 1991. It has been updated at every new Census since then. There are separate questions in the Census about national identity and religion.

You can read more about:

Exceptions

The Government Statistical Service’s (GSS) harmonised principles for ethnicity recommends that the 18 official ethnic groups are used whenever government carries out social surveys or collects administrative data.

A single, standardised list makes it easier to analyse ethnicity data wherever it is collected.

However, in practice, not all departments and organisations use the standardised list. For example, because:

  • they need data on some ethnic groups, but not others
  • they want their data to be consistent with data they’ve collected previously, which uses different ethnic groups
  • the low number of people surveyed in some ethnic groups means data has to be combined to make it more reliable, or to protect individual identities

The dashboard of ethnic categories shows that around 20 different ethnicity classifications are used on Ethnicity facts and figures.

Scotland and Northern Ireland

The Censuses in Scotland and Northern Ireland have differences in the ordering of the ethnic groups as well as the groups themselves.

Northern Ireland

The ethnicity question in the 2011 Census in Northern Ireland asked respondents to choose from the following 11 ethnic groups:

  • White
  • Chinese
  • Irish Traveller
  • Indian
  • Pakistani
  • Bangladeshi
  • Black Caribbean
  • Black African
  • Black Other
  • Mixed ethnic group
  • Any other ethnic group

The GSS harmonised principle for ethnicity in Northern Ireland proposes almost the same standardised ethnic categories as the 2011 Census of England and Wales. However, there are 2 White ethnic groups instead of 4:

  • White
  • Irish Traveller

Scotland

The ethnicity question in the 2011 Census in Scotland asked respondents to choose from the following 19 ethnic groups:

White

  • White Scottish
  • Other White British
  • White Irish
  • Gypsy / Traveller
  • White Polish
  • Other

Mixed or multiple ethnic group

  • Any mixed or multiple ethnic groups

Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British

  • Pakistani, Pakistani Scottish or Pakistani British
  • Indian, Indian Scottish or Indian British
  • Bangladeshi, Bangladeshi Scottish or Bangladeshi British
  • Chinese, Chinese Scottish or Chinese British
  • Other

African

  • African, African Scottish or African British
  • Other

Caribbean or Black

  • Caribbean, Caribbean Scottish or Caribbean British
  • Black, Black Scottish or Black British
  • Other

Other ethnic group

  • Arab, Arab Scottish or Arab British
  • Other

These are the same groups as those in the GSS harmonised principle for ethnicity in Scotland.

Combining data

If you need to combine data that uses different ethnic classifications – for example from the different Censuses in the UK – you can aggregate some groups using either the GSS harmonised categories for either: