The challenge of measuring immigrant origin and immigration-related ethnicity in Europe

  • Dirk JacobsEmail author
  • Marc Swyngedouw
  • Laurie Hanquinet
  • Véronique Vandezande
  • Roger Andersson
  • Ana Paula Beja Horta
  • Maria Berger
  • Mario Diani
  • Amparo Gonzalez Ferrer
  • Marco Giugni
  • Miruna Morariu
  • Katia Pilati
  • Paul Statham
Research Note


Different European nation-states use the most diverse statistical constructions of foreign origin or ethnic minority populations. Several countries traditionally even shun from producing such data. This makes international comparison a very difficult endeavour. Anyone wanting to perform comparative research on immigrants or (immigrant origin) ethnic minorities in Europe is unavoidably confronted with the most diverse types of national statistical data and has to opt for ad hoc solutions. Attempts at international comparison can thus be very tricky due to data characteristics. It is important that researchers are aware of these problems and do not simply accept data (especially in comparisons) at face value. In this article we embark on a comparative explorative study of the way in which immigrant background and immigration related ethnicity is taken stock of by national statistical institutes in a set of European nation-states.


Ethnic statistics Ethnic categorization Comparative research Europe 


Les États-nations européens utilisent des constructions statistiques très diversifiées afin de compter leurs minorités ethniques ou leurs populations issues de l’immigration. Plusieurs pays s’interdisent même de produire de telles données. Ceci entrave largement la comparaison internationale. Ceux qui veulent faire de la recherche comparative portant sur la situation des immigrés ou des minorités ethniques (issues de l’immigration) en Europe, seront confrontés à une grande diversité de données statistiques nationales qui sont peu comparables. Pour cette raison, la comparaison internationale sera toujours difficile, voir risquée. Il est important que les chercheurs soient conscients des limites et des risques liés à ce problème. Dans cet article nous entamons une étude comparative exploratoire des différentes stratégies de catégorisation ethnique utilisées par les instituts nationaux de statistiques dans une série d’États-nations européens.

Mots clés

statistiques ethniques catégorisation ethnique recherche comparative Europe 



A preliminary version of this article was presented in the Conference of the ESA Research Network for the Sociology of Culture on “Changing Cultures: European Perspectives”, Ghent, 15–17 November 2006. We thank the three anonymous reviewers of the Journal for International Migration and Integration for their very useful comments allowing for substantial improvement of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dirk Jacobs
    • 1
    Email author
  • Marc Swyngedouw
    • 2
  • Laurie Hanquinet
    • 1
  • Véronique Vandezande
    • 2
  • Roger Andersson
    • 3
  • Ana Paula Beja Horta
    • 4
  • Maria Berger
    • 5
  • Mario Diani
    • 6
  • Amparo Gonzalez Ferrer
    • 7
  • Marco Giugni
    • 8
  • Miruna Morariu
    • 8
  • Katia Pilati
    • 6
  • Paul Statham
    • 9
  1. 1.Institut de Sociologie – METICES/GERMEUniversité Libre de Bruxelles (CP 124)BruxellesBelgium
  2. 2.Katholieke Universiteit LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  3. 3.Uppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden
  4. 4.Universidade AbertaLisbonPortugal
  5. 5.University of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  6. 6.University of TrentoTrentoItaly
  7. 7.Universitat Pompeu FabraBarcelonaSpain
  8. 8.University of GeneveGenevaSwitzerland
  9. 9.Bristol UniversityBristolUK

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