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Religion, gender, and ethnicity in spotlight as Statistics NZ seeks views on 2018 Census

People are saying loud and clear that they want the census to keep asking about religion.

Statistics New Zealand will today begin accepting formal submissions on content for the 2018 Census, following the first two weeks of an online discussion forum.

In that time, most feedback has supported keeping religious affiliation questions in the census, while gender identity has emerged as one of the main talking points, accounting for over one-third of online engagement so far.

Whether ‘New Zealander’ should have its own tick box as an ethnicity is also proving popular.

Census General Manager Denise McGregor says it has been encouraging to see a range of people getting online to discuss issues they care about and what information they need from census.

“We have seen some really informed thinking – and heated debate – around many of the hot topics that are brought up each census cycle, such as sex, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, and ‘New Zealander’ as an ethnicity.

“So far, over one-third of the online discussion has been about gender identity, but we’ve also had a fair bit of discussion on the data collected about transport – in particular the number of motor vehicles people own.”

Mrs McGregor said other issues where Statistics NZ was expecting people to engage had been quieter than expected. “We’re interested to hear what people think about key social issues for New Zealand today, like housing and family structures.”

Statistics NZ has been using the online forum to encourage a wide range of people to talk about the census and shape their views ahead of the formal submission period. The formal submission period opens today, and will run until 30 June.

“The best opportunity to influence census content is to make a formal submission,” Mrs McGregor said.

Statistics NZ will analyse emerging themes from the online forum alongside the formal submissions to help with making decisions on 2018 Census content. Factors such as statistical quality, and the length and complexity of the questionnaire will be taken into account before making any changes.

“The census needs to reflect the changing nature of society, and we have to balance that with being able to compare data over time and track trends.”

2018 Census has information about how to join the discussion or make a formal submission.


For media enquiries contact: Colin Marshall, Wellington 04 931 4600,
Authorised by Liz MacPherson, Government Statistician, 19 May 2015

About the census

The New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings is the official count of how many people and dwellings there are in New Zealand. It takes a snapshot of the people in New Zealand and the places where we live.

Information from the census helps determine how government funding is spent in the community. It is used to help make decisions about which services are needed and where they should be, such as hospitals, kōhanga reo, schools, roads, public transport, and recreational facilities. Census information is also used by councils, community groups, iwi, and businesses to plan for the future, and make decisions on issues that affect us all.

The census is currently held every five years, with the last census delayed until 2013 after the Christchurch earthquake in 2011.

Statistics NZ is modernising the census in 2018. A key feature is encouraging self-response using online forms. Completing the census form online will be secure, quick, and easy. Most people will be able to complete the forms themselves without the need for a visit from a census collector. Paper forms will still be available for those who prefer them.

In parallel with planning for the 2018 Census, the Census Transformation programme is investigating different ways of running the census. Its purpose is to investigate alternative ways of producing small-area population and socio-demographic statistics in the long term. This includes the possibility of changing the census frequency to every 10 years, and exploring the feasibility of a census based on administrative data.

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