According to Wikipedia, ethnicity can be defined as “An ethnic group is a group of people whose members identify with each other through a common heritage, consisting of a common culture, including a shared language or dialect. The group’s ethos or ideology may also stress common ancestry, religion, or race.” Survey researchers, especially those in consumer market research, know that ethnicity is strongly related to buying patterns along with numerous other choices, e.g. political affiliation and voting habits, viewpoints on social issues, and related cultural nuances. Ethnicity is a key component of your overall demographic survey questions.
The best practice for measuring ethnicity on surveys is to follow the lead of the US Census. In the 2000 census the government chose to break out ethnicity and Spanish/Hispanic/Latino decent. This change, although apparently subtle, recognizes that someone can be of Hispanic decent, but view their ethnicity as Caucasian or African American. The Census also took the step of adding a category for multiple ethnicities. The table below provides an example of this two-step approach.
It allows the respondent to choose from the predominant ethnic categories in the US, write-in their own option or skip the question altogether. This is an important option as some may consider ethnicity to be a sensitive topic and this allows them to express their opinion without creating missing data, which has impact when we enter the survey data analysis phase.
If your product or service has appeal to the broader Hispanic market then you may wish to follow up with a question that probes into their origin a bit deeper. For example, Hispanics from Puerto Rico may view things differently than those from Mexico or Latin America. Level of acculturation, or to what degree they have adopted aspects of the American culture, has a strong impact on media and language preference, consumer behavior, and patterns for responding to survey questions.
Following the question format shown above allows you to compare the distribution of your survey respondents to the broader US population, or to specific regional distributions. This is a critical step in generating actionable consumer insights.