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European Population Censuses 2000/1

By Franz Rothenbacher

In 2001, several European countries conduct the decennial population censuses. The following article outlines some of the main characteristics of the ongoing census taking operations. Furthermore, the contents of the planned census and publication programmes are described.

Why Population Censuses?

Population censuses are one of the main instruments for data collection of nation states. They have been carried out on a regular basis in most European countries since 150 to 250 years. Population censuses are the only statistical form of investigation to produce an accurate picture of the population of a country. In most national statistical systems population censuses form the basis for many other statistical investigations like social surveys, and are used to correct current statistics from administrative registers, e.g. statistics on population movement. In addition, population censuses are especially important for local and regional planning, because they often are the only source of information for small local and regional units.

Aims and Tasks of Population Censuses

Results from population censuses present a quantitative picture of population structure, households and families in a country.
Because results are not only processed for the whole country, but also for regional divisions, e.g. by municipality or town district, and by detailed classifications, the census results form the basis for numerous actions of public administration, for economic decisions, and for scientific research. Not least they present information for everyone for their own decision making as well as for controlling the effectiveness of political measures.
Census figures allow a just allocation of tax money to regions and communes; furthermore, they are important with respect to the planning of national and local elections. On the local level, census figures are used for planning purposes such as necessary traffic services for commuters, industrial development and use of the soil, and they can also be used for population projections.

Over 200 Years of Population Censuses in Europe

National population censuses have a long tradition in Europe and, in principle, date back to the seventeenth century (census taking of course reaches back to antiquity). During the second half of the eighteenth century, the Nordic countries already held censuses on a regular basis. During the first half of the nineteenth century, census taking was institutionalized in most European countries. But is was not before the Belgian census of 1846 that the main principles of census taking were introduced and internationally acknowledged. These principles were: self-enumeration of the whole population with house-hold and individual questionnaires based on scientific methods. During the twentieth century, the population census as one of the main statistical instruments diffused throughout Europe. The censuses were enlarged more and more in terms of questions asked. Since the 1970s, rising problems with response rates prompted some countries to look for alternatives in data collection: in some countries social surveys were introduced as substitute, while in others the already good administrative registers were improved in order to allow for statistical exploitation. It seems likely that the population census will keep its important position in national statistical systems, because only some countries will be able to keep up-to-date administrative registers (Griffin, 1999).

Population Censuses throughout the World

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the European and American states agreed on uniform methods for population censuses. Since that time, in all European and most developing countries population censuses have beeb carried out regularly.
Since their foundation the United Nations have recommended national governments to hold population censuses at the end, resp. beginning of each decade. The EU and its member states have agreed on a minumum catalogue of questions and have determined the time period from January 1 to May 31 2001 as the enumeration date. Thus, most countries undertake population and housing censuses at least once every 10 years. The UN Statistical Commission reckons that 165 countries have conducted a census in the course of the last 10 years. These censuses have covered around 95% of the world's population. In the years around 2000, more than 160 countries will carry out a census (Kelly, 1998; UN/ECE, 1998; Punch, 1999).
The Nordic countries have chosen different solutions for the last population and housing censuses held there. Denmark conducted its last formbased census in 1970. In 1981, Denmark carried out the first census without forms, based solely on information in public registers. Finland followed with a pure register census in 1990. The lack of a complete residential address register has been one of the main reasons Norway and Sweden have not based their censuses solely on registers. Both countries have agreed to adopt this system, and, as a result, the Norwegian census has been postponed until 2001, while the Swedish census has been postponed until 2005. (Dates of population censuses worldwide are available from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Internet address www/cendates/; links to censuses in the world are available from the homepage of the Czech Statistical Office, Internet address: http://

Table: Population Censuses in Europe 2000/1

Population Censuses in some European Countries

In Austria, the decennial population census will be held on May 15, 2001. The last census was carried out on May 15, 1991. The population census is part of the large enumeration 2001, which also includes census of work places, buildings and housing.
The population census will be conventional insofar as every citizen will receive a questionnaire with some basic demographic and occupational topics. The contents will be read by a scanner and anonymized by Statistics Austria.
Population census results are published in tabular form in book series and the internet as well as in the data base ISIS of Statistics Austria in tabular form (ÖSTAT, 2001).

Belgium: Title Change in 2001

In Belgium the title of the census was changed. The census will no longer be called 'Recensement 2001' or 'Recensement général de la population et des logements 2001', but 'Enquête socio-économique générale 2001', or, more simple, 'Enquête 2001'. This title change is intended to indicate that the census no longer is merely a population census, but rather a general socio-economic investigation. Since 1991, the mere number of inhabitants has been extracted from the Registre national des Personnes physiques; therefore a pure population census has become superfluous. On the other hand, the Enquête 2001 will extensively use administrative registers and modern information and communication technologies.


A census of the population was taken in Finland on 31 December 2000. The census yields important data describing the population structure, employment, families and housing. Population Census 2000 was the third register-based population census in Finland after 1990 and 1995. Data from approximately thirty registers are used to produce the final census data.


On October 25, 2001, the 14th general population and housing census (14° Censimento generale della popolazione e censimento generale delle abitazioni-2001) will be conducted. Population censuses have been carried out every decade since 1861. The first housing census was organized in 1951, the 2001 census is the second one.


The decennial 'Recensement général de la population du 15 février 2001' collects information on individuals and households for subjects such as
- population structure by age, sex, nationality, profession, activity
- educational level
- daily commuting
- housing conditions of households
The main advantage of the census doubtlessly is its capacity to deliver data on diverse territorial units (communes, localities, city quarters).
The Luxembourg population census is of the conventional questionnaire-based type. Administrative registers would supply only inaccurate information as compared to information obtained from population censuses (age, sex, nationality, commune and place of residence, NACE). In the realm of occupational statistics, hours worked and work place cannot be obtained from registers. The profession is recorded in one register only and at a very incomplete stage. Furthermore, the core register, the central population register, is unreliable in several respects. These facts prompted STATEC to proceed to carrying out a 'register-based' census.


A population and housing census will be conducted on November 3, 2001, in Norway. About every 10 years since 1769, Norway has conducted such censuses. The 2001 Population and Housing Census will be the last census in which people have to fill out forms. One of the objectives of the census is to improve the quality of the registers so that Statistics Norway can subsequently extract statistics directly. Currently, the population register contains information on persons and families, while the Ground Property, Address and Building Register (GAB Register) contains information on homes. Unfortunately, the GAB Register is currently not complete because it lacks information about dwellings in apartment buildings built before 1983. To upgrade the GAB Register, all dwellings in Norway will be assigned a unique address.


The Instituto Nacional de Estatística (INE) has begun to prepare the "Census 2001": the 14th General Census of Population and the 4th General Census of Housing (XIV Recenseamento da Geral da População e o IV Recenseamento Geral da Habitação).
The census is conducted every 10 years and represents the most complete, extensive and complex enumeration of the country. The census covers all families and households, all persons resident in Portugal and all dwellings and housing conditions of inhabitants.


The next census of population and housing (Censos de Población y Viviendas) will be held on May 1, 2001. Census taking in Spain has a long tradition, with the first census being held in 1768.
The demographic census is the largest statistical project which is periodically organized in the country. The word Demographic Censuses in principle comprises three different censuses: the population census, the housing census and the building census (Censo de Población, Censo de Viviendas and Censo de Edificios). Connected with the latter one, an economic census will be organized as well: the census of work places (Censo de Locales).
Out of the three demographic censuses the population census is the most important and the one with the longest tradition. The first modern population census, which used the individual as basis of analysis, was realized in Spain in 1768 for the Conde de Aranda under the reign of Carlos III.
Ten years later, in 1787, the census on Florida-blanca was organized by Godoy during the reign of Carlos IV.
The series of official censuses started in 1857 under the Comisión General de Estadísticas del Reino, which was followed by the census of 1860. Since that time population censuses were held in 1877, 1887 and 1897. Since 1900, a population census (Censo de Población) has been carried out every ten years and without interruption. The population census held on May 1, 2001, will be the sixteenth official census organized in Spain (INE, 2000).


In Switzerland, the population and housing census was conducted on December 5, 2000. The Population Census has been a tradition since 1850. Having since developed into a 'structural survey' of the country, it draws a picture of Switzerland's most important structures by interlinking demographic, economic, social, geographic as well as cultural aspects. In Switzerland, the population census serves as a basis for numerous other statistics.
The 2000 census covers individuals, households and economically active persons in a person and household investigation; furthermore, information on residential buildings and housing units is collected in the buildings and housing census. The Swiss Federal Statistical Office (SFSO) intends to modernize the population and housing census towards a register census, but until 2000 the Swiss registers were not in a state that would allow for a pure register exploitation. Therefore the 2000 census was carried out in the form of a 'register-based' census, including some information (preprinted on the census questionnaires) from the population register. Most of the other information had to be collected in the conventional way. The Swiss Statistical Office intends to improve the different administrative statistics in the coming years to such a degree that a register census will become possible in the future.

United Kingdom

The UK census will be held on April 29, 2001. Since 1801, every 10 years (with the exception of 1941) a count of all people and housholds in the UK was made. The UK census is the most complete source of information of the country. In addition, it is the only survey which provides a detailed picture of the entire population, and it is unique in that it covers everyone at the same time and asks the same questions everywhere, making it easy to compare different parts of the country (ONS, 1999a, 1999b).

Griffin, T. (1999), 'The Census in Europe'. Statistical Journal of the United Nations ECE 16: 223-30.
INE (2000), Censos de Población y Vivendas 2001. Proyecto. Madrid: INE. Internet:
Kelly, J. (1998), 'Focus on the Recommendations for the 2000 Censuses of Population and Housing in the ECE Region'. Statistical Journal of the United Nations ECE 15: 177-8.
ÖSTAT (2001), Internet:
ONS (1999a), The 2001 Census of Population White Paper. London: The Stationery Office. Internet:
ONS (1999b), Population Trends no. 95, Spring: 3-4.
Punch, A. (1999) 'The 2000 Round of Censuses: A Review of Major Issues'. Statistical Journal of the United Nations ECE 16: 207-21.
United Nations Statistical Commission and Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE) (1998), Recommendations for the 2000 Censuses of Population and Housing in the ECE Region. Geneva and New York: United Nations (Statistical Standards and Studies Series, No. 49) (UN Publications Sales No. E.98.II E.5) Internet document: http://www.unece. org/stats/documents/census/2000/.

Dr. Franz Rothenbacher
MZES, Research Department A/ EURODATA
L7, 1
D-68131 Mannheim
Tel.: 0049(0)621-181-2831
Fax: 0049(0)621-181-2834