Measurement of ethnic background in cross-national school surveys: agreement between students' and parents' responses

Helene Nordahl, Rikke Krolner, Gabriella Pall, Candace Currie, Anette Andersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Purpose: Indicators such as country of birth and language spoken at home have been used as proxy measures for ethnic background, but the validity of these indicators in surveys among school children remains unclear. This study aimed at comparing item response and student–parent agreement on four questions about country of birth and language spoken at home in three European countries.Methods: We analyzed data from the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) Child–Parent Validation Study 2005, including 486 matched student–parent pairs from Denmark, Hungary, and Scotland. Selected items from the internationally standardized HBSC questionnaire were completed by 11-year-old students and their parents. We examined item response and student–parent agreement on the four HBSC Ethnic Background Indicators: the student’s country of birth, mother’s country of birth, father’s country of birth, and language usually spoken at home.Results: All item response rates were high for both students (>92%) and parents (>96%). The percent student–parent agreement was high on all four items (97%). The strength of agreement ranged from good to excellent for all items indicated by the kappa value (between .60 and 1.00). Results were robust across countries.Conclusions: Our findings suggest that students as young as 11 years are able to provide valid responses to four simple questions about country of birth and language spoken at home. The four HBSC Ethnic Background Indicators can be useful in epidemiologic studies on identification of subgroups that may receive unequal prevention services or in assessment of how risk factors, symptoms, and diseases may differ by ethnic background among school children.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)272-277
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2011



  • children
  • ethnic background
  • validity
  • survey
  • cross-national
  • socioeconomic-status
  • health behaviour
  • aged children
  • Physical activity
  • proxy reports
  • East London
  • adolescents
  • reliability
  • questionnaire

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