Sexuality question for 2023 census

Statistics Minister James Shaw has indicated that a sexuality question will appear on the 2023 New Zealand census after the question was omitted from this year’s census.

Speaking at Parliament today, the Minister expressed disappointment that no sexuality question will appear on this year’s census.

Government Statistician explains absence of question in 2018 census 

The Government Statistician – an apolitical public official separate from the Minister for Statistics’s office – has announced the question would be removed from this year’s census in 2017. The Statistician claimed that, on a pilot study for the 2018 census undertaken in 2016, including a “third gender option” led to so many deliberately misleading answers being given that the validity of the census would be compromised. In trialling sexuality questions, Statistics NZ has explained, the number of individuals responding as non-heterosexual was smaller than the number of individuals refusing to answer. This led to concerns at the accuracy of the data the census would be likely to return. Furthermore, concerns were raised by members of the community at the sensitivity of asking these questions.

When interviewed by Stuff in January, RainbowYOUTH executive director Frances Arns rejected those concerns. Arns cited the broader tolerance amongst the population in recent years in dismissing the Statistician’s concerns. Arns also argued that the possibility of the census revealing that Rainbow organisations are underfunded compared to the proportion of the population they serve made gathering sexuality and gender identity data important.

Sexualities question in 2018 General Social Survey

Despite the Statistician’s concerns, Statistics New Zealand will be including a sexual orientation question in the 2018 General Social Survey, which will speak face-to-face with over 8000 New Zealanders. The Survey will ask whether respondents are “heterosexual/straight, gay/lesbian, bisexual” or “other”. Refusing to answer will also be an option. Stuff reports that Diane Ramsay, senior manager at Statistics New Zealand, has conceded that the small size of the survey means that the number of “gender diverse people is unlikely to be well measured by this survey”.

Doubt as to whether asexuality will be included as a printed option in 2023

The Minister has not discussed what options will be put to respondents in the 2023 survey. He has made no specific mention of whether asexuality will be included as an option. There have been reports that the United Kingdom Office of National Statistics is considering including asexuality as an option in the sexual identity question in its 2021 England and Wales census. This follows active lobbying by researchers through AVEN and other asexual visibility and education networks.

The Asexuality New Zealand Trust has committed to compiling studies indicating that at-least 1% of the Western World’s population are asexual and sending these to the Minister to aid in ensuring fully informed decision-making on this issue. The Trust also plans to join with other groups in the LGBTQIA+ community to suggest that gender identity and sexual identity are addressed by separate questions. This reflects our understanding that these are discrete issues better reflected by separate census questions. Our hope is that the 2023 census will feature both these questions, with asexuality as a printed option on the form for the sexuality question.

Details of final decision not expected until 2022

The contents of this year’s coming census were announced by Statistics NZ in July last year, meaning no official confirmation will come regarding the contents of the 2023 census before mid-2022. However, given that 2018 census’ contents were tested in a large-scale public experiment earlier in 2017, some indications will be available before a final decision is made. This affords the asexual community and other communities of interest ample time to fully educate our public decision-makers.


Want to know more?

Read more in the Minister’s press release here. Discover more about the inclusion of sexuality and gender questions in the England and Wales 2021 census, and the debates in that country, here.

Written by Asexuality New Zealand Trust

Founded in 2018 in Auckland New Zealand, we’re a trust dedicated to empowering asexual spectrum individuals by helping them navigate their experiences and promoting understanding by educating the broader public about asexuality.