Ethnic classification in international context: a cross-national comparison of 1995-2004 census items
Ann Morning, New York University
Many national censuses categorize their populations by race, ethnicity, and/or origins; according to unpublished United Nations research, 65 percent of the countries surveyed enumerated their populations by national or ethnic group in the 1995-2004 census round. This paper analyzes a unique U.N. data set of 135 national census questionnaires, surveying the variety of approaches to ethnic enumeration taken and identifying several dimensions along which classification practices vary. This large-scale overview suggests several factors—historical, demographic and political—that merit attention when accounting for the evolution of ethnic categorization practices. Moreover, the diversity of international ethnic enumeration offers demographers a wealth of formats and approaches to consider when revisiting their own national census schedules. In this pragmatic vein, I include a case study of the United States as an example of the ways in which international comparison highlights unusual national practices and offers models for future innovations in census-taking.