July 22, 2010

Censuses Ignite Controversy in Canada and the U.K.

by D’Vera Cohn, Senior Writer, Pew Research Center

Canada’s Chief Statistician Quits Over Census Changes

The head of Statistics Canada has resigned over the government’s decision to drop the mandatory long form in the 2011 Census, stating that the voluntary survey that will be instituted in its place is not an adequate substitute. The resignation statement by Munir A. Sheikh declined to explain what advice he and his agency gave the government about its plan.

The Conservative government’s announcement last month that the long form would be dropped from the census after 35 years of use provoked criticism from Canada’s three opposition parties, and legislators plan to hold hearings next week on the issue. The Cabinet minister who oversees the census, Tony Clement, issued a statement after Sheikh’s resignation reaffirming the decision to drop the long form “because we do not believe Canadians should be forced, under threat of fines, jail, or both, to divulge extensive private and personal information.”

 


 United Kingdom May Drop Traditional Census

The United Kingdom will conduct a traditional census next year, but it may be the last of its kind, according to the British Cabinet minister in charge of the count. Francis Maude told the Daily Telegraph newspaper that there are ways to “provide better, quicker information, more frequently and cheaper.”

Britain has conducted a census each decade since 1801, with the exception of 1941 during World War II. But Maude said the count is out of date by the time its results are published the following year. He noted that 1.5 million households did not fill out census forms during the 2001 census, making the count incomplete. Maude suggested that one alternative would be to use administrative data in government records or from private databases to assemble a population count, and that it might be done more frequently than once each decade.

The government’s Office of National Statistics has issued a statement that changes to the traditional census are being considered as part of a project called Beyond 2011, whose missions is to “develop a range of options for the production of population statistics beyond the 2011 Census. It is considering how a number of different data sources could be used to produce the key information needed to support effective decision-making.”

As with the U.S. Census, census data are used in the U.K. to guide government funding and social programs. Some demographers and historians have expressed concern about scrapping the traditional census without having a good alternative in place to supply population data.

Nearly half of European countries will use an alternative to the traditional headcount for population data collection in 2010-2011, according to a recently published review of changes in census-taking in that region. A growing number rely on population registers kept by local or provincial governments.

 Find more about the ongoing decennial count and other census-related matters at All Things Census.