Measuring race and ethnicity in the censuses of Australia, Canada, and the United States: Parallels and paradoxes


  • Gillian Stevens
  • Hiromi Ishizawa George Washington University
  • Douglas Grbic Association of American Medical Colleges



Census, Measurement, race, ethnicity


Most national censuses include questions about race, colour, national origins, ethnicity, ancestry, and tribe in an effort to describe subgroups within their population. In this paper, we focus on changes over the last half-century in the racial and ethnic classification schemes of the censuses in three countries that share important historical and demographic features Australia, Canada, and the United States. We show that there are similarities, as well as some idiosyncratic features, in how these three nations define and describe racial and ethnic subgroups. We then argue that the gathering of data on the racial/ethnic subgroups in these three nations has followed a similar progression over the last half-century because of shifts in the understanding of race and ethnicity, data-gathering procedures, and the ongoing dialogue between each national population and its data-gathering institution.

Author Biography

Gillian Stevens

Gillian Stevens is Professor of Sociology and Executive Director of the Population Research Laboratory, University of Alberta