Saturday, January 29, 2022

What Questions Are On The Decennial Census in the United States?

The United States has conducted a census count of its residents every ten years beginning in April 1790. As April 2022 approaches and the decennial Census taken in 1950 becomes public, I have had a question about what questions are asked on each one. I do know the questions are required by law and often are sources of political disagreement, as was the case a couple of years ago when several politicians wanted to add a question about legal residency. There was a great deal of partisan squabbling about potential outcomes and that question was never added.

So which questions have shown up? My research has shown a significant change in number and type of questions over the more than two hundred year history. Here are a few examples:

1790 -- The first; the number and choice of questions makes sense, considering the newness of the country and the reality of enslaved people in this country.

  • Name of family head; free white males of 16 years and up; free white males under 16; free white females; slaves; other free persons. 

1800 -- The next one; what a change in the number of questions...downward!

  • Names of family head; if white, age and sex; race; slaves.

1840 -- The first with a significant increase in the number of questions

  • Name of family head; age; sex; race; number of deaf and dumb; number of blind; number of insane and idiotic and whether in public or private charge; number of persons in each family employed in each of six classes of industry and one of occupation; literacy; pensioners for Revolutionary or military service.
1910 -- Another, even larger large increase in the number of questions

  • Address; name; relationship to family head; sex; race; age; marital status; number of years of pres- ent marriage for women, number of children born and number now living; birthplace and mother tongue of person and parents; if foreign born, year of immigration, whether naturalized, and whether able to speak English, or if not, language spoken; occupation, industry, and class of worker; if an employee, whether out of work during year; literacy; school attendance; home owned or rented; if owned, whether mortgaged; whether farm or house; whether a survivor of Union or Confederate Army or Navy; whether blind or deaf and dumb.
1940  -- The most recent decennial Census publicly available

  • Address; home owned or rented; value or monthly rental; whether on a farm; name; relationship to household head; sex; race; age; marital status; school attendance; educational attainment; birthplace; citizenship of foreign born; location of residence 5 years ago and whether on a farm; employment status; if at work, whether in private or nonemergency government work, or in public emergency work (WPA, CCC, NYA, etc.); if in private work, hours worked in week; if seeking work or on public emergency work, duration of unemployment; occupation, industry, and class of worker; weeks worked last year, income last year.

1950 -- Finally, here are the questions from the soon-to-be-released decennial 1950 U.S. Census

  • Address; whether house is on farm; name; relationship to household head; race; sex; age; marital status; birthplace if foreign born, whether naturalized; employment status; hours worked in week; occupation, industry, and class of worker.

My guess is the upcoming Census most likely be the largest so far by population considering that World War II happened after the 1940 Census, resulting in the Baby Boomer Generation; the 1940 Census has held the distinction of being the largest so far. 

Many of those alive now will see their names in a Census for the first time and perhaps for the only time since the 1960 Census will not be released until 2032, me included. I will be in my 80s, so while it is possible, it is less and less likely as time goes on. How old will YOU be...?

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