Ethnicity and ethnic group measures in social survey research

Publication type

Journal Article

Published in

Methodological Innovations


Roxanne Connelly, Vernon Gayle and Paul S. Lambert

Publication date


This article is a review of issues associated with measuring ethnicity and using ethnicity measures in social science research. The review is oriented towards researchers who undertake secondary analyses of large-scale multipurpose social science datasets. The article begins with an outline of two main approaches used in social surveys to measure ethnicity, the ‘mutually exclusive category’ approach and the ‘multiple characteristics’ approach. We also describe approaches to the use of ethnicity measures in cross-national comparative research. We emphasise the value of sensitivity analyses. We also encourage researchers to carefully consider the possible relationships between ethnicity and other important variables in order to avoid spurious interpretations of the effects of ethnicity.

Volume and page numbers

9, 1-10





Social Sciences, Research, Ethnic Groups and Surveys


Open Access; Creative Commons Non Commercial CC-BY-NC: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (