Census data provide official counts of all the people residing in a country and information about their gender, ethnicity, income, and other variables. These data are used for calculating revenues for governments, dividing up political representation, and the population counts derived from census data serve as the denominator for many indicators. To address the ongoing need for census data in data-driven decision making, Open Data Watch has collected helpful articles and resources on census data, organized by Data Value Chain categories that affect data-driven decision making: availability, openness, dissemination, and use and uptake. As there is an overwhelming number of census data sources and visualizations at the national level, priority has been given to collections of census resources and visualizations at the international level.
A section on census data and COVID-19 is also included as these data are particularly relevant for the fight against COVID-19, revealing where vulnerable populations live and how characteristics, such as income, gender, and ethnicity affect the death toll and spread of the virus. This resource sheet will be updated as new information becomes available and new resources will be noted with each update by the text *New*. The date of publication is listed beside each article; however, dates are not shown for dashboards and data sources that are dynamically updated.
Updated 23 October 2021
Census data and COVID-19
- The COVID-19 pandemic has stressed the importance of accurate and timely data. Wired reports on the importance of census data during a pandemic. (9/03/21) *New*
- United States Census Bureau releases an interactive data hub that centralizes COVID-19 data to facilitate pandemic-related decision making. (4/23/20)
- Cooper and Smith, in collaboration with Malawi’s Ministry of Health, uses census data to model COVID-19 outbreaks and incorporate local conditions, such as the rainy season migration pattern. (4/14/20)
- Using census data and data from the National Health Profile, the Brookings Institution maps the state-level variation in the availability of government beds in India. (3/24/20)
- Fieldwork related to housing conditions and amenities for India’s 2021 census has been delayed due to COVID-19. Fieldwork for the population enumeration phase of the census will occur in 2022-23 though no plans have been finalized. (3/15/21) *New*
- United Nations Statistics Division put together a report on their survey, which surveyed national statistics offices to understand the impact of COVID-19 on population and housing censuses. (5/3/21) *New*
- The COVID-19 pandemic threatens the successful conduction of censuses in many countries, learn more about the national impact COVID-19 has had on census implementation through UNFPA’s tracker.
- The United Nations Statistics Division documents countries with censuses in 2020 and how COVID-19 might impact them. (5/11/20)
- WIRED explains the history of the census, shares examples of alternative mechanisms for counting populations, and describes how COVID-19 could change the census as we know it. (4/1/20)
- The Population Reference Bureau describes how COVID-19 has made it difficult to count the college students temporarily displaced because of the pandemic and provides guidelines on how to ensure they are counted. (3/24/20)
- The COVID-19 pandemic makes it even more difficult for the United States to count every resident in their upcoming census, reports NPR. This article describes the major challenges, including hiring workers who are willing to interview people who are potentially infected with COVID-19. (3/17/20)
- The United Nations Statistics Division has a collection of population census datasets from national statistical offices worldwide.
- The United States Census Bureau has created an international database with data for demographic indicators and population pyramids for countries and areas with a population of 5,000 people or more.
- The International Household Survey Network (IHSN) provides a data catalog that contains census microdata from countries around the world.
- The Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) International provides survey and census data from around the world integrated across time and space.
- PARIS21’s documents on the development of National Strategies for the Development of Statistics (NSDS) offers a useful framework for addressing issues of data openness in all kinds of data from national statistical offices, including censuses.
- The World Bank’s readiness assessment tool for data opennessis a useful document for planning a strategy for opening and sharing official datasets, including census data, and is one of the core tools in the World Bank’s Open Government Data Toolkit.
- In preparation for the release of the 2020 U.S census statistics, learn more about data privacy and safeguards that are needed to keep people anonymous in publicly available data and about the balancing act of keep data private and useful. (5/19/21) *New*
- Nicholas Nagle from the University of Tennessee applies the differential privacy approach to 2010 census data and discusses the tradeoffs between privacy and accuracy. (4/6/20)
- Patrick Gathara, a consultant from Al Jazeera, discusses the Kenyan government’s controversial policy that requires citizens to provide identity numbers in the census. In addition to privacy issues, he shares his concern about a “one-way street” in which only the government can monitor citizens. (8/27/19)
- Robert Hackett, from Fortune, explains the importance of maintaining privacy during the 2020 US census. He demonstrates how older safeguards are now ineffective in protecting user privacy and why there needs to be new techniques to ensure that personal records cannot be found with the census data alone. (5/25/19)
- The US Census Bureau announces the use of a new mathematical concept called differential privacy to protect the privacy of citizens during 2020 census data collection. Science explains the new approach and discusses the concerns from census takers and researchers. (1/4/19)
- The Office for National Statistics of the United Kingdom announces a series of measures to protect census data confidentiality and security and new arrangements to ensure that US authorities could not access 2011 census data. (1/20/16)
- United States Census Bureau publishes visualizations for multiple topics, including historical population data, migration and geographic mobility, family dynamics, and economic indicators.
- Eurostat develops a variety of data visualization tools that present data from different statistical themes at the European Union, countries, and regions level.
- Nomis, a database run by the University of Durham on behalf of the Office for National Statistics of the United Kingdom, creates a series of charts to visualize commuting and migration datasets from census data.
- Gapminder’s visualizations can be used to understand and compare population trends in countries around the world.
- The Wall Street Journal created data visualizations to illustrate how the United States has changed since the last census, which occurred in 2010. (3/12/20)
- NASA’s Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) created the PopGrid data viewer dashboard to allow users to compare the existing global or near-global population grids. The tool incorporates a four-panel display of six different population datasets that provide subnational gridded population estimates using remote sensing, mobile data, and other non-official data sources.
- The United Nations Population Fund’s World Population Dashboard showcases global population data, including fertility rate, gender parity in school enrollment, and information on sexual and reproductive health at the national level for countries around the world.
- World Population History, first created by Population Education, is an interactive site that allows users to explore 2,000 years of civilization from historical, environmental, social, and political perspectives.
- A collection of interactive dashboards created by Tableau users with census data.
Uptake and Use
- Three representatives from the Population Reference Bureau explain why so many children under the age of five go uncounted in the United States census. (3/23/20)
- BBC uses the example of the Kenyan census to explain why counting people can be controversial. The results of the census are directly tied to political representation and funding, and representatives in the northeast of the country are questioning the veracity of the results after they found a decrease in their region’s population. (11/11/19)
- Politico on the Trump administration’s fight to add a citizenship question to the census and how that could affect population counts, especially for immigrants, across the country. (7/2/19)
- Chris Skinner from the London School of Economics explores the major challenges countries have faced during census data collection such as cost pressures, privacy, and reduced cooperation. (3/1/18)
- The Statistical Journal of the International Association for Official Statistics (IAOS) analyzes 25 articles that provide a broad and worldwide overview of many technical aspects of census taking. (2020)
- The Statistical Journal of the IAOS discusses four questions regarding the census, the definition of a census, its methodology, and the relevance of census taking and census technology. (4/27/20)
- Council of Foreign Relations reminds us why the census matters, especially for distributing political power and federal funding. (4/2/20)
- Population Reference Bureau explains how the US Census Bureau defines a household.
- Statistics South Africa explains the importance of the census and provides a number of links to documents and information about their 2011 census. (2/18/20)
- Measure Evaluation offers a lesson on the use of census information to help users understand key terms and methodologies that could affect data analysis.
- Report from the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network Thematic Research Network on Data and Statistics (SDSN TReNDS) on how gridded population datasets can be used by policymakers and combined with census data. The report also compares seven gridded population datasets from the POPGRID Data Collaborative, including an analysis of the underlying data, methods and basic assumptions, and the corresponding strengths and limitations of each dataset. (5/13/20)
- BBC News explains why the 2021 United Kingdom census could be the last. Experiments in the country are underway to find out how administrative and other data sources could supplement the census. (2/14/20)
- New research from the Population Reference Bureau outlines strategies to reduce the undercount of young children in the United States 2020 census and proposes that data on family structure and living arrangements, recent immigration, and socioeconomic status might be better predictors of the risk for child undercount. (2/5/20)
- The Economist states that the American census looks out of date during the era of big data and explores how big data might eventually replace the census. (1/20/20)
- New survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau finds that LGBT adults in the United States are approximately twice as likely to be experiencing food insecurity during COVID-19 than non-LGBT adults. (8/12/21) *New* . (8/12/21) *New*
- Nora Gordon and Krista O’Connell from Georgetown University share how the decennial census is used to determine how half a trillion dollars in federal funds will be distributed to state and local governments. (2/18/20)
- The Council of Foreign relations explains the establishment and the importance of the United States census and how the census functions as a tool for ensuring a fair distribution of federally funded programs and distribution of political power. (12/16/19)
- Ted Widmer authors a piece for the New Yorker on the history of the census in the United States and its importance. He explains how the census changed the United States and created a unifying experience for US citizens. (5/1/19)
- James J. Feigenbaum publishes a research paper on deploying machine learning for census matching across time, enabling intergenerational mobility, income, and policy effect tracking. (3/28/16)
- The Office for National Statistics of the United Kingdom shares projects that use census data. For example, Lancashire County Council used census statistics as a building block for their internet access project. (1/26/16)
- Central Bureau of Statistics of Israel provides some examples of possible users and uses of census data for the government, private sector, and general public.
- World Bank Data examines to what extent household surveys and censuses in low- and middle-income countries include disability questions and the types of questions under use. *New*
- For the first time, the UK census will include a question about gender identity as well as the one about a person’s legally registered sex. (3/9/21) *New*
- Nepal plans to count LGBT+ people for the first time in its next census. This is a step toward understanding the challenges LGBT+ people face and formulate strong public policies to address their challenges. (2/7/20) *New*
- Tony Pipa and Caroline Conroy point out the lack of a mandate for cities to advance progress on the sustainable development goals and the importance of city leadership in leaving no one behind. (10/29/19)
- Conducting the most dangerous census in the world, and more on why Lebanon won’t officially count their population. (10/17/19)
- Sigal Samuel authors a piece for Vox on how Ghana has developed a data-driven approach to combat high poverty rates and on the countries plans to “leave no one behind” in the 2020 census. (5/30/19)
- International Organization for Migration (IOM) presents a pilot study on using census data to monitor progress towards SDG to assess the extend migrants may be “left behind.” (1/11/18)
- A report published by Overseas Development Institute (ODI) analyzes the underestimation of slum households in the census and calls for improved data collection to tailor urbanized world. (7/4/16)
- The United States Census Bureau has a resources page with training materials on how to implement a census and best communicate findings from a census.
- This UN has a number of resources to help NSOs implement censuses: a handbook with guidance on planning, organization and administration of a population and housing census; a document on principles recommendations for implementing censuses; and guidelines on the use of electronic data collection technologies in population and housing censuses.