Measuring and monitoring Māori health depends on having high-quality, available ethnicity data, both in the health sector and in official statistics more generally. This paper discusses the substantial increase in ‘New Zealander’ responses to the ethnicity question in the last census, as well as changing official policies for the coding of these types of responses, impacts on the stability of ethnicity data. Changing response patterns and changing policies for classifying ethnicity make it more difficult to compare data over time and between data sets, which is essential for monitoring.
The use of the term ‘New Zealander’ to refer to ethnicity can be confusing, as it is a term that is already in common use in reference to nationality. It is also a term that can apply to the majority of the population. If its usage increases in future censuses, it will make it difficult to identify ethnic diversity. There is also some evidence that for some respondents, ‘New Zealander’ responses represent an objection to the idea and practice of collecting data on ethnicity. At this level, there is the potential to undermine the integrity of official and administrative ethnicity data collections. This would have major impacts on the ability to measure and monitor Māori health and ethnic inequalities.