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  The total process of collecting, compiling and publishing demographic, economic and social data pertaining to all persons in a defined territory at a specified time. The census may thus provide a primary source of information about the population of a country; given its legal status, its coverage, the scale of the operation and resources devoted to it, and that it takes place under the auspices of some governmental authority, it permits a far greater content and depth of analysis than can normally be produced by other methods.

Enumerations of population were carried out in ancient times, but the earliest modern censuses took place in Scandinavia and in some Germanic and Italian states in the eighteenth century. The first census of Iceland, for example, was in 1703, of Sweden in 1749 and Denmark in 1769. The first general census of the USA took place in 1790, although there had been earlier state censuses. In Britain and France the first censuses were held in 1801 and during the nineteenth century all European countries initiated periodic population censuses (Willigan and Lynch, 1982). Governmental attitudes to census-taking varied: some countries equated population numbers with military or economic strength, while others saw the census as a basis for the distribution of resources. In the USA, a specific provision for a population count was made in the Constitution as state populations were to be used to apportion the members of the House of Representatives (Daugherty and Kammeyer, 1995). Aggregate census data are usually in the public domain, though an example of the sensitivity and secrecy surrounding the census comes from the USSR in 1937 when a census was conducted but the results treated as state secrets. During the present century, and especially since 1945, most countries of the world have begun to take censuses, although with widely varying frequency and reliability. Though critiques have been relatively little developed by population geographers, census-taking may be seen as part of the wider monitoring by states of human activity (see, for example, surveillance).

The census has sometimes proved controversial not only because it is generally compulsory but also because of the sensitivity of questions surrounding, for example, religion or ethnicity (on the latter in the 1991 UK census, see Coleman and Salt, 1996; Peach 1996). It may also be prone to inaccuracy, for example in the recording of age. The categories it adopts may be rather inflexible for the understanding of social structure and change, and may themselves represent a particular view of society. Questions asked need to be adapted to changing population behaviour and structure (for example to take account of cohabitation or divorce or changing ethnicity).

Two qualities in a census are particularly important: periodicity and universality — i.e. the need to hold regular censuses and to include every individual in a given area: the UK, for example, has held regular censuses at ten-year intervals. sampling is also used in many countries to establish certain categories of information within a full census, or to replace that census. There is also a general distinction in census method between a de facto approach, as in the UK, where individuals are recorded at the place where they were found at the time of the census, and a de jure approach, as in the USA, where people are recorded according to their usual place of residence. Census data provide a cross-sectional view of a population at a particular moment and may be distinguished from longitudinal data (cf. longitudinal data analysis). Attempts to bridge this gap, where individuals are traced from one census to another and where other demographic data relating to the individual may be incorporated, include the Longitudinal Study in Britain or the Echantillon Démographique Permanent in France. Access to, and use of, the census in many countries has been much improved through computerization and computer mapping (see computer-assisted cartography; geographical information systems). More detailed information has been made available to researchers through samples such as the SARS (Samples of Anonymised Records) in the UK or the PUMS (Public Use Microdata Samples) in the USA. Previous censuses provide invaluable material for historical geography, both the published tables and (subject to time limits that may be imposed to protect confidentiality) individual census returns. Thus, the census enumerators\' books — the manuscript recording of information on individuals and households on which the aggregate tables were based — are a valuable source for understanding the social geography of nineteenth-century Britain and other countries where census-taking is well established.

Types of data collected by censuses vary enormously from country to country. The United Nations, in an attempt to foster comparability, has suggested that each census should include: total population; sex, age and marital status; place of birth, citizenship or nationality; first language, literacy and educational qualifications; economic status; urban or rural domicile; household or family structure; and fertility. (PEO)

References Coleman, D. and Salt, J., eds, 1996: Ethnicity in the 1991 census. Volume 1: Demographic characteristics of the ethnic minority populations. London: HMSO. Daughtery, H.G. and Kammeyer, K.C.W. 1995: An introduction to population, 2nd edn. New York and London: The Guilford Press, ch. 4. Peach, C., ed, 1996: Ethnicity in the 1991 census. Volume 2. The ethnic minority populations of Great Britain. London: HMSO. Willigan, J.D. and Lynch, K.A. 1982: Sources and methods of historical demography. New York and London: Academic Press, ch. 4.

Suggested Reading Benjamin, B. 1970: The population census. London: Heinemann. Cox, P.R. 1976: Demography, 5th edn, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. Dale, A. and Marsh, C., eds, 1993: The 1991 census user\'s guide. London: HMSO. Hakim, C. 1982: Secondary analysis in social research: a guide to data sources and methods with examples. London: George Allen and Unwin, Part One, 25-94. Lawton, R., ed., 1978: The census and social structure. London: Frank Cass. Openshaw, S., ed., 1995: The census users\' handbook. Cambridge: GeoInformation International. Petersen, W. 1975: Population, 3rd edn. New York and London: Collier-Macmillan, ch. 2.



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