A Sense of Identity: National Identity and the coming Census

Every decade a census is taken in England and Wales. This snapshot of all people and households gives information to help plan resource allocation, and will help future historians understand us. This year, there is a lot of chatter on social media asking the question ‘Do you feel European?’ with speculation whether we should, or even can, add this to our census form.

The Office of National Statistics acknowledges that national identity is “multi-dimensional.”We have been allowed and encouraged to self identify since the 2011 census introduced this new question to observe the increased interest in ‘national’ consciousness. The previous 2001 census in England and Wales did not have a National Identity question. The Scottish Census had options for Scottish, Irish, British or Other; the lack of an option to state you were English or Welsh caused people to campaign to have their national identity acknowledged.


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Now, to express your possibly multi-dimensional identity you are allowed to tick more than one box for this question, and even write in the most fitting for you, if it isn’t included.

Ethnicity, religion, place of birth and what passports you hold are separate questions on the census, ensuring a full range of collected data in addition to how you feel. This also ensures everyone who is a citizen of another European country can be recorded clearly.

This means you are legally allowed to write European if you genuinely self-identify as such. For many of us Brexit has been a focusing lens for our national identities, leaving us questioning who we most identify with and which direction we want to face.

The table below summarises how people reported last time.

Statistical Nationality England and Wales hold a census every 10 years. In the last census in 2011, 91 per cent of the population identified with at least one UK national identity (English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, and British). Most people chose more than one identity. English identity (either alone or combined with others) was the most common identity respondents chose to associate with, at 37.6 million people (67.1 per cent), whilst only 32.4 million (57.7%) people chose English as their only identity. British identity (sole or combined) was chosen by 16.3 million people (29.1 per cent), whilst only 10.7 million people (19.1 per cent) chose just British identity. Welsh identity (sole or combined) was chosen by 2.4 million people (4.3 per cent), whilst 2 million people (3.7 per cent) chose Welsh only identity. A small percentage of people in England and Wales associated themselves with a Scottish or Northern Irish identity (1.0 per cent and 0.3 per cent respectively), and 5.5 million people (9.8 per cent) said they had a national identity which was classed as ‘Other’.
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