Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Some thoughts on the 2011 census

This morning my census form arrived in the post. I read through it and had a few thoughts.

I wonder whether I should be English or British?

Ten years ago I remember agonising over whether to list myself as "Christian" in the religion question. Today I am more confortable describing myself as Christian but I will list myself as Unitarian. But it's interesting to note that there is not enough room in the question to write "Unitarian Universalist" so no one could write that if they wanted to.

I shall list my job title as "Unitarian Minister" but the next question "Briefly describe what you do in your main job" I'm going to have to have a think about.

I wonder whether it would be considered illegal to list a same-sex civil partner as your wife/husband if you considered them to be that spiritually and personally?


Blogger Joseph said...

It is quite interesting how a few questions on a form can lead to some interesting introspection. I too am not sure whether to choose English or British. I was born in England, raised in England and am a lover of the small town/rural English culture that has shaped me, and yet my entire family comes from Galicia in Spain, I speak Galician/Spanish at home when with my family, and have a deep emotional connection with Galician culture. This makes me think British would be a more accurate choice, but my heart still says to pick English. At least the religion question is easier for me.

8:04 pm  
Blogger Paul Oakley said...

Censuses, of course, are very imperfect instruments for gathering meaningful information. In fact, in order to gather anything quantifiable (which is essential to a census's usability) a census cannot avoid obliterating self identity in favor of a set of group identities that have been predetermined to be of value for the uses of the government. Otherwise what is gathered is a nation of communities of one.

The British/ English identity quandry is a different kind of issue than we deal with on this side of the pond. Interesting. I understand the difference in the terms, but how does/ will it make a difference to government policy?

Fascinating too the issue of religious affiliation/ identity as a census issue. In the US, Public Law 94-521 prohibits the Census Bureau's asking about religious affiliation as a mandatory question. As a result, religion statistics are not sought or compiled by the government as part of the US census. I suppose the very existence of a state church requires the government to quantify such information. Is the data gathered in such a way as could be used in any significant way to require disestablishement purely as a demographic matter?

Questions of race and partnering information were somewhat improved on our most recent US census but continue to be imperfect here. Does your census wording recognize the legal civil unions or only use the either archaic or ambiguous language of husband/ wife?

Best of luck with this mandatory exercise in reductive classification in service of government agendas, Stephen!

9:34 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

Paul, if I remember rightly ten years ago you could only be "British" and didn't have the option to write "English" or "Welsh" or "Scottish." As to the difference that makes to government policy, I have no idea.

The religion question is not mandatory. It is the only question that is optional in the census. As someone in that business, I do find the results interesting.

Their political significance is an interesting question. The British Humanist Association have certainly been arguing that the relatively high proportion of people who listed themselves as Christian last time has been used to justify church establishment. However they have argued that most people just considered themselves culturally Christian and so they want people to write "no religion" this time if they aren't actually religious.

I suppose if the number of people who listed themselves as Christian fell below 50% then that would certainly be an argument for disestablishment.

The census does recognise same-sex civil partner as an option. That's kind of my point, if you listed your civil partner as your husband or wife, are you breaking the law?

10:03 am  
Anonymous Angela @ liveunitarianly.com said...

FYI I've heard that if you write in Unitarian they've set up a sub-code for us as a type of Christianity. (So it will be counted as if you've put Christianty). Somewhat off-putting for the non-Christian Unitarians, but more convenient for the Christian Unitarians.

If you want to know for sure, just email the census people. It's for sure covered by the Freedom of Information Act.

6:48 pm  
Anonymous Jenni said...

I'm not sure what the English & Welsh census questions are, but I have just filled in the Scottish census & was able to list my national identity as both Scottish & British, both of which I am very proud of!

9:18 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

This is all interesting stuff, Derek McAuley's blog links to 2001 census date here:

In which Unitarians are listed as "recorded under ‘Other’ but coming from ‘Christian-Related/Contested’ Groups in England and Wales" which is a fair enough description of Unitarianism.

That page does give some interesting information (well, interesting to someone like me). For instance there are twice as many Unitarians in the UK than Christian Scientists. But three times as many Mormons as Unitarians.

There are only three followers of Asatru in Wales and only 80 Confucianists in England. There are 104 Realists in England, but none in Wales.

The Scottish data here (http://www.scottishpf.org/data.html) tells us that 14,014 people listed themselves as "Jedi" and 14 people listed themselves as "Sith" - but the boring England and Wales census people don't tell us that.

9:58 pm  
Blogger Yewtree said...

I just managed to put "Unitarian & Wiccan" - I wonder how they will classify me?

11:06 am  

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