Significant ethnic and socio-economic disparities exist in infectious diseases (IDs) rates in New Zealand, so accurate measures of these characteristics are required. This study compared methods of ascribing ethnicity and socio-economic status. Children in the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal cohort were ascribed to self-prioritised, total response and single-combined ethnic groups. Socio-economic status was measured using household income, and both census-derived and survey-derived deprivation indices. Rates of ID hospitalisation were compared using linked administrative data. Self-prioritised ethnicity was simplest to use. Total response accounted for mixed ethnicity and allowed overlap between groups. Single-combined ethnicity required aggregation of small groups to maintain power but offered greater detail. Regardless of the method used, Māori and Pacific children, and children in the most socio-economically deprived households had a greater risk of ID hospitalisation. Risk differences between self-prioritised and total response methods were not significant for Māori and Pacific children but single-combined ethnicity revealed a diversity of risk within these groups. Household income was affected by non-random missing data. The census-derived deprivation index offered a high level of completeness with some risk of multicollinearity and concerns regarding the ecological fallacy. The survey-derived index required extra questions but was acceptable to participants and provided individualised data. Based on these results, the use of single-combined ethnicity and an individualised survey-derived index of deprivation are recommended where sample size and data structure allow it.