By Alex Jackson

Last updated on

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The content on this page is extremely old. Much has changed in the world since this article was written. While many of the concepts will still be relevant, figures and case studies are likely to be outdated at this point.

It is important to realise that censuses don’t just collect demographic data, but that they also collect information regarding employment, education, community patterns etc.

National Information Obtained

  • Can look at trends over the previous ten years and project how these trends will move forwards to enable planning to take place.
  • Censuses can help project future demand for jobs.
  • They can help project natural change and immigration changes.
  • They enable the planning of services such as schools and hospitals.
  • They enable to projection of national housing demands.
  • They offer a snapshot of the diversity of the country.

Regional Information Obtained

  • Enabled regional plans to be developed to cater for anticipated natural increase/decrease and changes in migration.
  • Enables services to be located close to demand.
  • Assists the provision of essential utilities.
  • Locates areas of depravation based on grid squares and postcodes.

Information For Business & Commercial Interest

  • Enables targeted marketing using information based on postcodes.
  • Enables firms to locate in areas where people and required skills are available.

Why Do People Dislike Censuses?

  • Some see them as an invasion of their privacy.
  • Political conditions in a country can make censuses difficult or even dangerous to carry out. For example, Nigeria didn’t have a senses for 28 years.

Methods Of Collection

People are “counted” either where they are at a precise moment in time (de facto) or according to their normal place of residence.


Censuses normally take place every ten years. Some countries carry out one every 5 years, others with a much lower frequency.


Either the whole population is surveyed or just a small sample (i.e. 10% of the population) and general conclusions are then derived about the whole population.

What Data is Collected?

  • Age - 0 - 5, 6 - 10, 11 - 15 etc.
  • Sex & Gender - Male / Female
  • Education - Primary, Secondary, Higher education. Qualifications, years of school completed etc.
  • Occupation - Permanent, temporary, unskilled, unemployed etc.
  • Religion - Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jedi, no religion etc.
  • Socio-economic Status - Indicator of social class. In the UK, A1 = Richest & F5 = Poorest.
  • Ethnicity - White, Black etc.
  • Marital Status - Married, single etc.