A census is the procedure of systematically acquiring and recording information about the members of a given population. It is a regularly occurring and official count of a particular population. The term is used mostly in connection with national population and housing censuses; other common censuses include agriculture, business, and traffic censuses. In the latter cases the elements of the 'population' are farms, businesses, and so forth, rather than people. The United Nations defines the essential features of population and housing censuses as "individual enumeration, universality within a defined territory, simultaneity and defined periodicity", and recommends that population censuses be taken at least every 10 years. The term itself comes from Latin: during the Roman Republic the census was a list that kept track of all adult males fit for military service.
The census can be contrasted with sampling in which information is obtained only from a subset of a population, sometimes as an Intercensal estimate. Census data is commonly used for research, business marketing, and planning, as well as a baseline for sampling surveys. In some countries, census data are used to apportion electoral representation (sometimes controversially – e.g., Utah v. Evans).
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