1. List of ethnic groups

If you’re in a government service team, there’s a design pattern for asking users for their ethnic group.

In England and Wales, there are 18 ethnic groups recommended for use by the government when asking for someone’s ethnicity. These are grouped into 5 ethnic groups, each with an ‘Any other’ option where people can write in their ethnicity using their own words. These groups were used in the 2011 Census of England and Wales.

The recommended ethnic groups are:

White

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

Mixed or Multiple ethnic groups

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

Asian or Asian British

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

Black, African, Caribbean or Black British

  • African
  • Caribbean
  • Any other Black, African or Caribbean background

Other ethnic group

  • Arab
  • Any other ethnic group

In Wales, ‘Welsh’ is the first option in the White category.

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

2. How the groups were chosen

The Office for National Statistics 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
  • the organisations that run the Censuses in Northern Ireland and Scotland

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:

3. Exceptions

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

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

Not all departments and organisations use the standardised list, for example if:

  • 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.

4. Scotland and Northern Ireland

The Censuses in Scotland and Northern Ireland use different ethnicity classifications.

Northern Ireland

The ethnicity question in the 2011 Census in Northern Ireland asked people 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

Scotland

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

White

  • White Scottish
  • Other White British
  • White Irish
  • Gypsy or 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

5. Combining data

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

6. 2001 Census

Some organisations, such as the NHS, still use the ethnic groups from the 2001 Census when recording people's ethnicity.

The main differences between the 2001 and 2011 Census ethnic groups are:

  • the Chinese ethnic group moved from the ‘Other’ ethnic group (in 2001) to the ‘Asian’ ethnic group (in 2011)
  • there were no ‘Gypsy or Irish Traveller’ or ‘Arab’ groups listed in 2001

The 2001 Census ethnic groups are:

White

  • British
  • Irish
  • Any other White background

Mixed

  • White and Black Caribbean
  • White and Black African
  • White and Asian
  • Any other Mixed background

Asian or Asian British

  • Indian
  • Pakistani
  • Bangladeshi
  • Any other Asian background

Black or Black British

  • Caribbean
  • African
  • Any other Black background

Chinese or other ethnic group

  • Chinese
  • Any other