Ethnic or cultural origin of person

Status: This standard was approved as a departmental standard on April 1, 2021.


Ethnic or cultural origin refers to the ethnic or cultural origins of the person's ancestors. Ancestors may have Indigenous origins, or origins that refer to different countries, or other origins that may not refer to different countries.

Person refers to an individual and is the unit of analysis for most social statistics programs.


Given that a person may report more than one origin, ethnic or cultural origin is typically analyzed by considering each response separately. Persons who report more than one ethnic or cultural origin are included in the response category for each of the origins they reported and the counts for specific origins reflect the number of responses provided. As a result, manually summing all ethnic or cultural origin categories will result in a count that will be greater than the total population estimate due to the reporting of multiple origins.

Conformity to relevant internationally recognized standards

This standard is compatible with the recommendations for censuses contained in the United Nations' Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses, Revision 3, 2017.

In its recommendations, the UN states that ethnicity is a multidimensional and fluid concept. It is broadly defined "based on a shared understanding of history and territorial origins (regional and national) of an ethnic group or community, as well as on particular cultural characteristics such as language and/or religion. Respondents' understanding or views about ethnicity, awareness of their family background, the number of generations they have spent in a country, and the length of time since immigration are all possible factors affecting the reporting of ethnicity in a census". The UN suggests a variety of concepts that can be used to measure ethnicity in a census, including ethnic ancestry and cultural origins. This standard is consistent with the UN's recommended approach to measuring ethnicity.

The recommendations further state that information be acquired through self-declaration of respondents and that the respondents should be free to indicate more than one ethnic affiliation or a combination of ethnic affiliation if they wish to do so, and that is the case in this standard.

The UN does not provide a standard classification of ethnic ancestry or origin, but they recommend that, when compiling data, the classification of ethnic groups included the finest levels of ethnic groups, self-perceived groups, regional and local groups, as well as groups that are not usually considered to be ethnic groups, such as religious groups. This is done in this standard through the list of ethnic or cultural origins.


Relation to previous version

  • Ethnic or cultural origin of person April 01, 2021 to current

    The variable name has been updated to 'Ethnic or cultural origin of person' and the definition has been revised. The list of ethnic or cultural origins has been considerably expanded compared to the previous version.

  • Ethnic origin of person October 19, 2015 to March 31, 2021

    This standard replaces the recommended standard "Ethnic origin of person". The definition has been revised and a usage note and information about conformity to international standards added.

  • Ethnic origin of person May 08, 2013 to October 18, 2015

    This was the recommended standard from May 08, 2013 to October 18, 2015.

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