27 March 2010

I collected together data, of varying status, for the number of people in Cornwall who describe themselves, or are described by their parents, as White Cornish in a 2007 post, updated by posts in 2008 and 2009. This post is a further update to incorporate the 2010 PLASC figures.

In Britain people have a free choice as to how they describe their ethnicity and one can freely change one’s ethnic description if one wishes. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) uses numerous ethnic categories though only a few appear discretely on spatially constrained census forms.

There are several major local sources of information about the numbers of people in various ethnicities in Cornwall, the annual school census, the periodic Cornwall quality of life survey, and two social service surveys. The sets of data from each of these are neither comparable between the sources nor, strictly, within them and this should be borne in mind when reading the sets or assuming apparent trends. The national census has not had an open tick-box option of the two main ethnicities in Cornwall, English and Cornish (actually, White English and White Cornish) and thus is unhelpful here.

Here are the ethnic results from the school census (PLASC), taken in January each year, for the overall proportion of pupils described as White Cornish:
2006: 24 percent
2007: 27 percent
2008: 30 percent
2009: 34 percent
2010: 37 percent

This data suggests that the proportion categorised (largely by their parents) as White Cornish is rising overall as new nursery and primary pupils enter school. Additionally, the percentages of White Cornish for each of the separate primary/nursery, secondary, and special school groups have risen over time.

The 2004 Cornwall Quality of Life Survey for the county council showed that 35 percent of respondents described themselves as “White Cornish” (Table 5). In the 2007 survey this is 26 percent (table 3.1.15). The fall is unexplained in the survey. Note that there is a fall here but a rise in the pupil figures.

Two surveys in Cornwall in 2006 of people receiving various social services included a question about ethnic identity. The Charter survey showed forty three percent of respondents regarded themselves as Cornish; the personal social services (PSS) homecare survey showed forty five percent did; in both surveys virtually all were White Cornish. The respondents to the Charter survey were chiefly female and elderly; the numbers of respondents to the homecare survey were substantially female and practically all of them were elderly.

Data discrimination against the English?
The 2004 Quality of Life Survey survey also showed 48 percent describing themselves as White English and 11 percent as White British. The 2007 Quality of Life survey omitted the White English tick box and offered White British which 72 percent ticked. I don’t know why the English category was omitted, especially as it was the largest single group in 2004. Whatever the reason, the effect might be seen as data discrimination against those in Cornwall who regard themselves as English and is a loss of useful information about a community. I find the the omission regrettable. The Cornwall 2006 social services survey also include Cornish but not English as an open ethnic option; again this might be seen in effect in Cornwall as data discrimination. (The 2001 census had neither English nor Cornish as an open tick-box option; the next one will apparently include English as an open option but not Cornish, an omission which I also regret.)

There are acknowledged difficulties in how representative of the population of Cornwall the populations in each of these data sets are. The response to the quality of life surveys under-represent the younger groups; the pupil surveys naturally are tilted to the young and their largely youngish parents; the 2006 surveys tilt to the elderly and women. The populations of the school censuses are very much larger than those of the quality of life and 2006 surveys.

Perhaps here I might mention that in the 2001 census, which did not have a Cornish or an English tick box for identity, 33 932 people living in Cornwall wrote on the form that they were Cornish, about seven percent of the population, the percentage being higher in the west than in the east. These write-in figures are presumably provided by adults completing the census form. The actual views of children are not necessarily expressed as adults probably write in children as Cornish or fail to write them in as Cornish whatever the children think.

In summary, based on these sources the proportion of people in Cornwall describing themselves, or describing their children, as Cornish ranges from about a quarter to about two fifths of Cornwall’s population. The proportion is not consistent, varying by age and location. The data is based on people being asked to choose only one ethnicity though, given the choice, many people claim more than one identity. The total population of Cornwall in mid-2008 was estimated at 532 000.

Note that these are people self-describing as Cornish (or parents describing their children as Cornish). Some people consider that there are criteria such as parentage and ancestors which determine whether one is Cornish. There is a tension between these varying ideas of who is Cornish.

I discuss in a later post what these ethnic figures might mean.

Which end do you break your egg?
I’m putting here a paragraph from my post How many are Cornish? as it makes a point I think important about ethnicity and nationalism:

“I understand the point of ethnic monitoring so that we can use the data to try to ensure our public services are genuinely accessible to all parts of the population and so that we can try to provide relevant services. I understand the need to see oneself in particular ways, to enjoy various identities, including group ones. So I am not hostile to collecting and using ethnic data and giving people the chance to identify themselves. However, I have questions. How wise is it to seek out differences among people rather than concentrating on what we have in common? Can stressing ethnic, religious, and other cultural distinctions with no balancing commonalities engender antagonisms? How do we take care that these differences among people do not create unhealthy division and hostility? I suppose I believe it doesn’t matter which end of the egg you open.”
Note: Original post 16 June 2008; the 2006 surveys added October 2008; paragraph on census write-ins added 17 December 2008.

Related posts

Atomising people

Ethnicity and Cornwall

And biologically speaking

Blue-eyed Cornish and English are brothers

English and Cornish are sisters under the skin

English and Cornish have same milk gene

“which end of the egg you open” – Jonathan SWIFT, Gulliver’s travels, part 1, chapter 4