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Improving how we report ethnicity

Capturing good data and reporting it accurately helps MSD make better decisions about the support we provide communities, whānau, and people in Aotearoa.


Ethnicity is about people’s identity and sense of belonging. Ethnicity measures cultural affiliation, rather than race, ancestry, nationality, or citizenship. Ethnicity is self-perceived; people can identify with more than one ethnic group and change their affiliations over time.

Since 2001, people have been able to tell us that they identify with multiple ethnicities when accessing support from MSD. This recognises that people are diverse and often multi-cultural.

We ask for this so we can make sure that people are able to express their full identity when engaging with us. This also makes sure that we have the right information about communities, whānau, and people to base our decisions on. We use this information to show how different groups in Aotearoa are supported or impacted by the services we provide.

We used to report ethnicity using an approach called ‘prioritised ethnicity’. ‘Prioritised ethnicity’ meant that we allocated people to a single ethnic group in an order of priority, even if they identified with more than one ethnicity. The priority that MSD used was Māori, Pacific Peoples, NZ European and Other. For example, if someone identified as Māori and Tongan, they were reported as Māori only.

What has changed?

On 10 December 2021, we introduced a new reporting approach called ‘total response’. Making this change means that we recognise all aspects of someone’s ethnicity and allows us to represent the full diversity of communities, whānau, and people in Aotearoa. For example, if someone identifies as Māori and Tongan, they will be reported as both Māori and Tongan.

This will reflect our clients more accurately, align our approach with Statistics NZ’s reporting and reflect best practice.

Under the ‘total response’ ethnicity approach, people can appear more than once in our reporting, so ethnic group totals will add to more than 100 percent of clients. The number of clients has not changed, but the way we represent them has. For example, as at 30 June 2021 around 12 percent of our main benefit clients identified with more than one ethnic group.

To understand the impact of these changes, please see below:

Changes to the reporting ‘Hierarchy’

We now use a 4-level hierarchy that aligns with Statistics NZ.

This hierarchy rolls the detailed information we collect (level 4) into 6 aggregate groups (level 1). We publish reporting using level 1, so instead of publishing reporting for Māori, Pacific Peoples, Other, New Zealand European, we publish Māori, Pacific Peoples, European, Asian, MELAA (Middle Eastern, Latin American, and African), and Other. We also provide ethnicity reporting at level 2 which will progressively have more detail.

This way of reporting has changed the way our numbers look. For example, as at 30 June 2021, the percentage of main benefit clients who identify as ‘European’ increased from 39 percent to 53 percent and ‘Pacific Peoples’ from 9 percent to 12 percent. The percentage of people identifying as Māori (38 percent) did not change, as this group was always reported as the ‘top’ priority.

To understand the different levels, please see below: