1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Census

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20351671911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 5 — CensusWalter Francis Willcox

CENSUS (from Lat. censere, to estimate or assess; connected by some with centum, i.e. a count by hundreds), a term used to denote a periodical enumeration restricted, in modern times, to population, and occasionally to industries and agricultural resources, but formerly extending to property of all kinds, for the purpose of assessment.

Operations of this character have been conducted with different objects from very ancient times. The fighting strength of the children of Israel at the Exodus was ascertained by a count of all males of twenty years old and upwards, made by enumerators appointed for each clan. The Levites, who were exempted from military duties, were separately enumerated from the age of thirty upwards, and a similar process was ordained subsequently by Solomon, in order to distribute amongst them the functions assigned to the priestly body in connexion with the temple. The census unwillingly carried out by Joab at the behest of David related exclusively to the fighting men of the community, and the dire consequences ascribed to it were quoted in reprobation of such inquiries as late as the middle of the 18th century. It appears, too, that a register of the population of each clan was kept during the Babylonian captivity and its totals were published on their return to Jerusalem. In the Persian empire there was apparently some method in force by which the resources of each province were ascertained for the purpose of fixing the tribute. In China, moreover, an enumeration of somewhat the same nature was an ancient institution in connexion with the provincial revenues and military liabilities. In Egypt, Amasis had the occupation of each individual annually registered, nominally to aid the official supervision of morals by discouraging disreputable means of subsistence; and this ordinance, according to Herodotus, was introduced by Solon into the Athenian scheme of administration, where it developed later into an electoral record.

It was in Rome, however, that the system from which the name of the inquiry is derived was first established upon a regular footing. The original census was ascribed to Servius Tullius, and in the constitution which goes by his name it was decreed that every fifth year the population should be enumerated along with the property of each family—land, live-stock, slaves and freedmen. The main object was to ensure the accurate division of the people into the six main classes and their respective centuries, which were based upon considerations of combined numbers and wealth. With the increase of the city the operation grew in importance, and was followed by an official lustrum, or purificatory sacrifice, offered on behalf of the people by the censors or functionaries in charge of the classification. Hence the name of lustrum came to denote the intercensal term, or a period of five years. The word census, too, came to mean the property qualification of the class, as well as the process of registering the resources of the individual. Later, it was used in the sense of the imposition itself, in which it has survived in the contracted form of cess. Unfortunately the statistics of population thus collected were subordinated to the fiscal interests of the inquiry, and no record has been handed down relating to the population of the city and its neighbourhood. In the time of Augustus the census was extended to the whole empire. In the words of the Gospel of St Luke, he ordered “the whole world to be taxed,” or, according to the revised version, to be enrolled. The compilation of the results of this the most comprehensive enumeration till then attempted was engaging the attention of the emperor, it is said, just before his death, but was never completed. The various inquiries instituted during the middle ages, such as the Domesday Book and the Breviary of Charlemagne, were so far on the Roman model that they took little or no account of the population, the feudal system probably rendering information regarding it unnecessary for the purposes of taxation or military service.

The foundations of the census on the modern system were laid in Europe towards the middle or end of the 17th century. Sweden led the way, by making compulsory the parish record of births, deaths and marriages, kept by the clergy, and extending it to include the whole of the domiciled population of the parish. In France, Colbert, in 1670, ordered the extension to the rural communes of the system which had for many years been in force in Paris of registering and periodically publishing the domestic occurrences of the locality. Five years before this, however, a periodical enumeration by families and individuals had been established in the colony of New France, and was continued in Quebec from 1665 till 1754. This, therefore, may be considered to be the earliest of modern censuses.

Efforts have been almost unceasingly made since 1872 by statistical experts in periodical conference to bring about a general understanding, first, as to the subjects which may be considered most likely to be ascertained with approximate accuracy at a census, and secondly—a point of scarcely less importance—as to the form in which the results of the inquiry should be compiled in order to render comparison possible between the facts recorded in the different areas. In regard to the scope of the inquiry, it is recognized that much is practicable in a country where the agency of trained officials is employed throughout the operation which cannot be expected to be adequately recorded where the responsibility for the correctness of the replies is thrown upon the householder. The standard set up by eminent statisticians, therefore, may be taken to represent an ideal, not likely to be attained anywhere under present conditions, but towards which each successive census may be expected to advance. The subjects to which most importance is attached from the international standpoint are age, sex, civil condition, birthplace, illiteracy and certain infirmities. Occupation, too, should be included, but the record of so detailed a subject is usually considered to be better obtained by a special inquiry, rather than by the rough and ready methods of a synchronous enumeration. This course has been adopted in Germany, Belgium and France, and an approach to it is made in the decennial census of Canada and the United States. Religious denomination, another of the general subjects suggested, is of considerably more importance in some countries than in others, and the same may be said of nationality, which is often usefully supplemented by the return of mother-tongue. Nor should it be forgotten that the internal classification and the combinations of the above subjects are also matters to be treated upon some uniform plan, if the full value of the statistics is to be extracted from the raw material. On the whole, the progress towards a general understanding on many, if not most, of the questions here mentioned which has been made in the present generation, is a gratifying tribute to those who have long laboured in the cause of efficient enumeration.

The British Empire

England and Wales.—Up to the beginning of the 19th century the number of the population was a matter of estimate and conjecture. In 1753 a bill was introduced by a private member of the House of Commons, backed by official support, to provide for the annual enumeration of the people and of the persons in receipt of parochial relief. It was violently opposed as “subversive of the last remains of English liberty” and as likely to result in “some public misfortune or an epidemical distemper.” After passing that House, however, the bill was thrown out by the House of Lords. The fear of disclosing to the enemies of England the weakness of the country in fighting-material was one of the main objections offered to the proposal. By the end of the century, however, owing to a great extent to the publication of the essays of Malthus, the pendulum had swung far in the opposite direction, it was thought desirable to possess the means of judging from time to time the relations between an increasing population and the means of subsistence. A census bill, accordingly, again brought in by a private member, became law without opposition at the end of 1800, and the first enumeration under it took place in March of the following year, the operations being confined to Great Britain. The inquiry was entrusted in England to the overseers, acting under the justices of the peace and the high constables, and in Scotland, to village schoolmasters, under the sheriffs. A supplementary statement of births, deaths and marriages for each parish was required from the clergy, who transmitted it to parliament through the bishops and primates successively. There was no central office or control. The schedule required the number of houses, inhabited and otherwise, the population of each family, by sex, and the occupation, under one of the three heads, (a) agriculture, (b) trade, manufacture or industry, or (c) other than these two. The results, which were not satisfactory, were published without comment. Ten years later, the chief alteration in the inquiry was the substitution of the main occupation of the family for that of the individual. The report on this census contained a very valuable exposition of the difficulties involved in such operations and the numerous sources of error latent in an apparently simple set of questions. In 1821 an attempt to get a return of ages was made, but it was not repeated in 1831, when the attention of the enumerators was concentrated upon greater detail in the occupation record. Their efforts were successful in getting a better, but still far from complete result. The creation, in 1834, of poor law unions, and the establishment, in 1836, of civil registration districts, as a rule coterminous with them, provided a new basis for the taking of a census, and the operations in 1841 were made over accordingly to the supervision of the registrar-general and his staff. The inquiry was extended to the sex, age and occupation of every individual; those born in the district were distinguished from others, foreigners being also separately returned. The number of houses inhabited, uninhabited and under construction respectively, was noted in the return. The parish statement of births, deaths and marriages was sent up by the clergy for the last time. The most important innovation, however, was the transfer of the responsibility for filling up the schedule from the overseers to the householders, thereby rendering possible a synchronous record.

With some modification in detail, the system then inaugurated has been since maintained. In 1851 the relationship to the head of the family, civil condition, and the blind and deaf-mute were included in the inquiry. On this occasion, the act providing for the census was interpreted to authorize the collection of details regarding accommodation in places of public worship and the attendance thereat, as well as corresponding information about educational establishments. A separate report was published on the former subject which proved something of a storm centre. The census of 1871 obtained for the first time a return of persons of unsound mind not confined in asylums. During the next ten years, the separate areas for which population returns had to be prepared were seriously multiplied by the creation of sanitary districts, to the number of 966. The necessity, for administrative or other purposes, of tabulating separately the returns for so many cross-divisions of the country constitutes one of the main difficulties of the English census operations, more particularly as the boundaries of these areas are frequently altered. In anticipation of the census of 1891, a treasury committee was appointed to consider the various suggestions made in regard to the form and scope of the inquiry. Its proposals were adopted as to the subdivision of the occupation column into employer, employed and independent worker, and as to the record upon the schedule of the number of rooms occupied by the family, where not more than five. Separate entry was also made of the persons living upon property or resources, but not following any occupation. No action was taken, however, upon the more important recommendation that midway between two censuses a simple enumeration by sex and age should be effected. A return was also prepared in 1891, for Wales, of those who could speak only Welsh, only English, and both languages, but, owing to the inclusion of infants, the results were of little value. In 1901 the same information was called for, excluding all under three years of age. The term tenement, too, was substituted for that of storey, as the subdivision of a house, whilst in addition to inhabited and uninhabited houses, those occupied by day, but not by night, were separately recorded. The nationality of those born abroad, which used to be returned only for British subjects, was called for from all not born within the kingdom.

Scotland.—In the acts relating to the census from 1801 to 1851, provision for the enumeration of Scotland was made with that for England and Wales, allowance being made for the differences in procedure, which mainly concerned the agency to be employed. In 1855, however, civil registration of births and deaths was established in Scotland, and the conduct of the census of 1861 was, by a separate act, entrusted to the registrar-general of that country. The same course was followed at the three succeeding enumerations, but in 1901 the former practice was resumed. The complexity of administrative areas, though far less than in England, was simplified, and the census compilation proportionately facilitated, by the passing of the Local Government Act for Scotland, in 1889. In 1881, the definition of a house in Scotland was made identical with that in England, since previously what was called a house in the northern portion of Great Britain was known as a tenement in the south, and vice versa. Since 1861 a return has been called for in Scotland of the number of rooms with one or more windows, and that of children of school-age under instruction is also included in the inquiry. The number of persons speaking Gaelic was recorded for the first time in 1881. The question was somewhat expanded at the next census, and in 1901 was brought into harmony with the similar inquiry as to Welsh and Manx.

Ireland.—An estimate of the population of Ireland was made as early as 1672, by Sir W. Petty, and another in 1712, in connexion with the hearth-money, but the first attempt to take a regular census was made in 1811, through the Grand Juries. It was not successful, and in 1821 again, the inquiry was considered to be but little more satisfactory. The census of 1831 was better, but the results were considered exaggerated, owing to the system of paying enumerators according to the numbers they returned. The census, therefore, was supplemented by a revisional inquiry three years afterwards, in order to get a good basis for the newly introduced system of public instruction. The completion of the ordnance survey and the establishment of an educated constabulary force brought the operations of 1841 up to the level of those of the sister kingdom. The main difference in procedure between the two inquiries is that in Ireland the schedule is filled in by the enumerator, a member of the constabulary, or, in Dublin, of the metropolitan police, instead of being left to the householder. The tabulation of the returns, again, is carried out at the central office from the original schedule, and not, as in England, from the book into which the former has been copied by the enumerating agency. The inquiry in Ireland is more extensive than that in Great Britain. It includes, for instance, a considerable amount of information regarding holdings and stock. The details of house accommodation are fuller. A column is provided for the degree of education, and another for religious denomination, an addition which has always been successfully resisted in England. This last information was made voluntary in 1881 and the following enumerations without materially affecting the extent of the record. The inquiry as to infirmities, too, is made to extend to those temporarily incapacitated from work, whether at home or in a hospital. There is also a column for the entry of persons speaking the Irish language only or able to speak both that and English. In the report of 1901 for England and Wales (p. 170) a table is given showing, for the three divisions of the United Kingdom, the relative number of persons speaking the ancient languages either exclusively or in addition to English.

British Colonies and Dependencies.—A simultaneous and uniform census of the British empire is an ideal which appeals to many, but its practical advantages are by no means commensurate with the difficulties to be surmounted. Scattered as are the colonies and dependencies over the world, the date found most suitable for the inquiry in the mother country and the temperate regions of the north is the opposite in the tropics and inconvenient at the antipodes. Then, again, as to the scope of the inquiry, the administrative purposes for which information is thus collected vary greatly in the different countries, and the inquiry, too, has to be limited to what the conditions of the locality allow, and the population dealt with is likely to be able and willing to answer. By prearrangement, no doubt, uniformity may be obtained in regard to most of the main statistical facts ascertainable at a census, at all events in the more advanced units of the empire, and proposals to this effect were made by the registrar-general of England and Wales in his report upon the figures for 1901. Previous to that date, the only step towards compilation of the census results of the empire had been a bare statement of area and population, appended without analysis; comparison or comment, to the reports for England and Wales, from the year 1861 onwards. In 1905, however, the returns published in the colonial reports were combined with those of the United Kingdom, and the subjects of house-room, sex, age, civil condition, birthplace, occupation, and, where available, instruction, religion and infirmities, were reviewed as fully as the want of uniformity in the material permitted (Command paper, 2860, 1906). The measures taken by the principal states, colonies and dependencies for the periodical enumeration of their population are set forth below.

Canada.—The first enumeration of what was afterwards called Lower Canada, took place, as above stated, in 1665, and dealt with the legal, or domiciled, population, not with that actually present at the time of the census, a practice still maintained, in contrast to that prevailing in the rest of the empire. The record was by families, and included the sex, age and civil condition of each individual, with a partial return of profession or trade. Later on, the last item was abandoned in favour of a fuller return of agricultural resources, a feature which has remained a prominent part of the inquiry. After the British occupation, a census was taken in 1765 and 1784, and annually from 1824 to 1842, the information asked for differing from time to time. Enumerations were conducted independently by the different states until 1871, when the first federal census was taken of the older parts of the Dominion. Since then, the enumeration has been decennial, except in the case of the more recently colonized territories of Manitoba and the North-West, where an intermediate census was found necessary in 1885–1886. The census of Canada is organized on the plan adopted in the United States rather than in accordance with British practice, and includes much which is the subject of annual returns in the latter country, or is not officially collected at all. The details of deaths in the year preceding the census, for instance, are called for, there being no registration of such occurrences in the rural tracts. In consideration of the large immigrant population again, the birthplace of each parent is recorded, with details as to nationality, naturalization and date of immigration. Occupation is dealt with minutely, in conjunction with temporary unemployment, average wage or salary earned, and other particulars. No less than eleven schedules are employed, most of them relating to details of industries and production. The duty of filling up so comprehensive a return, involving an answer to 561 questions, is not left to the householder, but entrusted to enumerators specially engaged, working under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture. Owing to the sparse population and difficulties of communication in a great part of the dominion, the inquiry, though referred to a single date, is not completed on that day, a month being allowed to the enumerator for the collection of his returns and their revision and transmission to the central office. A special feature in the operations is the provision, necessitated by the record of the legal population, for the inclusion in the local return of the persons temporarily absent on the date of the census, and their adjustment in the general aggregates, a matter to which considerable attention is paid. The very large mass of detail collected at these inquiries entails an unusually long time spent in compilation; the statistics of population, accordingly, are available considerably in advance of those relating to production and industries.

Australasia.—As the sphere of the census operations in Canada has been gradually spreading from the small beginnings on the east coast to the immense territories of the north-west, so, in the island continent, colonization, first concentrated in the south-east, has extended along the coasts and thence into the interior, except in the northern region. The first act of effective occupation of the country having been the establishment of a penal settlement, the only population to be dealt with in the earlier years of British administration was that under restraint, with its guardians and a few scattered immigrants in the immediate neighbourhood of Sydney Cove. This was enumerated from 1788 onwards by official “musters,” at first weekly, and afterwards at lengthening intervals. The record was so inaccurate that it had no statistical value until 1820, when the muster was taken after due preparation and with greater care, approximating to the system of a regular census. The first operation, however, called by the latter name, was the enumeration of 1828, when an act was passed providing for the enumeration of the whole population, the occupied area and the live-stock. The details of population included sex, children and adults respectively, religion and status, that is whether free (immigrants or liberated convicts), on ticket-of-leave, or under restraint. A similar inquiry was made in 1833 and again in 1836. In 1841 a separate census was taken of New Zealand and Tasmania respectively. The scope of the inquiry in New South Wales was somewhat extended and made to include occupations other than agriculture and stock-breeding. Five years later, the increase of the population justified the further addition of particulars regarding birthplace and education. The record of status, too, was made optional, and in 1856 was omitted from the schedule. In that year, moreover, Victoria, which had become a separate colony, took its own census. South Australia, too, was enumerated in 1846, ten years after its foundation as a colony. From 1861 the census has been taken decennially by all the states except Queensland, where, as in New Zealand, it has been quinquennial since 1875 and 1881 respectively. Up to and including the census of 1901 each state conducted separately its own inquiries. The scheme of enumeration is based on that of Great Britain, modified to suit the conditions of a thin and widely scattered population. The schedules are distributed by enumerators acting under district supervisors; but it is found impossible to collect the whole number in a single day, nor does the mobility of the population in the rural tracts make such expedition necessary. In more than one state the police are employed as enumerators, but elsewhere, a staff has to be specially recruited for the purpose. The operations were improved and facilitated by means of an interstatal conference held before the census of 1891, at which a standard schedule was adopted and a series of general tables agreed upon, to be supplemented in greater detail according to the requirements of each state. The standard schedule, in addition to the leading facts of sex, age, civil condition, birthplace, occupation and house-room, includes education and sickness as well as infirmities, and leaves the return of religious denomination optional with the householder. Under the head of occupation, the bread-winner is distinguished from his dependants and is returned as employer, employed, or working on his own account, as is now the usual practice in census-taking. Each state issues its own report, in which the returns are worked up in the detail required for both local administrative purposes, and for comparison with the corresponding returns for the neighbouring territory. The reports for New South Wales and Victoria are especially valuable in their statistical aspect from the analysis they contain of the vital conditions of a comparatively young community under modern conditions of progress.

South Africa.—Almost from the date of their taking possession of the Cape of Good Hope and its vicinity, the Netherlands East Indian Company instituted annual returns of population, live-stock and agricultural produce. The results from 1687 for nearly a century were recorded, but do not appear to have been more accurate than those subsequently obtained on the same method by the British government, by whom they were discontinued in 1856. The information was collected by district officials, unguided by any general instructions as to form or procedure. The first synchronous census of the colony, as it was then constituted, took place in 1865, on a fairly comprehensive schedule. Ten years later the inquiry was extended to religion and civil condition, and for the census of 1891, again, a rather more elaborate schedule was used. The next census was deferred till 1904, in consequence of the disorganization produced by the Boer war. The inquiry was on the same lines as its predecessors, with a little more detail as to industries and religious denomination. Speaking generally, the administration of the operations is conducted upon the Australian plan, with special attention to allaying the distrust of the native and more ignorant classes, for which purpose the influence of the clergy was enlisted. In some tracts it was found advisable to substitute a less elaborate schedule for that generally prescribed. In Natal, indeed, where the first independent census was taken in 1891, the Kaffir population was not on that occasion enumerated at all. In 1904, however, they were counted on a very simple schedule, by sex and by large age-groups up to 40 years old, with a return of birthplace, in a form affording a fair indication of race. Natives of India, an element of considerable extent and importance in this colony, are enumerated apart from the white population, but in full detail, recognizing the remarkable difference between the European and the Oriental in the matter of age distribution and civil condition. The Transvaal and the Orange River colonies were enumerated in 1904. In the latter, a census had been taken in 1890, in considerable detail, but that of the Transvaal, in 1896, seems to have been far from complete or accurate even in regard to the white population. In Southern Rhodesia the white residents were enumerated in 1891, but it was not until 1904 that the whole population was included in the census. The difficulty in all these cases is that of procuring a sufficient quantity of efficient agency, especially where a large and illiterate native population has to be taken into account. For this reason, amongst others, no census had been taken up to 1906 of Northern Rhodesia, the British possessions and protectorates of eastern Africa, or, again, of Nigeria and the protectorates attached to the West African colonies of Gambia, Sierra Leone and Lagos.

The West Indies.—Each of the small administrative groups here included takes its census independently of the rest, though since 1871 all take it about the date fixed for that of the United Kingdom. The information required differs in each group, but the schedule is, as a rule, of a simple character, and the results of the inquiry are usually set forth with comparatively little comment or analysis. In some of the groups distinctions of colour are returned in general terms; in others, not at all. On the other hand, considerable detail is included regarding the indentured labourers recruited from India, and those of this class who are permanently settled on the land in Guiana and Trinidad. No census was taken in the former, or in Jamaica and Barbados, in 1901.

Ceylon.—Here the census is taken decennially, on the same date as in India, in consideration of the constant stream of migration between the two countries. The schedule is much the same as in India with the substitution of race for caste. Until 1901, however, it was not filled in by the enumerator, as in India, but was distributed before and collected after the appointed date as in Great Britain.

India.—The population of India is the largest aggregate yet brought within the scope of a synchronous and uniform enumeration. It amounts to three-fourths of that of the British Empire, and but little less than a fifth of the estimated population of the world. Between 1853 and 1881 each province conducted its own census operations independently, with little or no attempt at uniformity in date, schedule or tabulation. In the latter year the operations were placed for the first time under central administration, and the like procedure was adopted in 1891 and 1901, with such modification of detail as was suggested by the experience of the preceding census. On each occasion new areas had to be brought within the sphere of enumeration, whilst the necessity for the use in the wilder tracts of a schedule simpler in its demands than the standard, grew less as the country got more accustomed to the inquiry, and the efficiency of the administrative agency increased. Not more than 5% of the householders in India can read and write, and the proportion capable of fully understanding the schedule and of making the entries in it correctly is still lower. From the literate minority, therefore, agency has to be drawn in sufficient strength to take down every particle of the information dictated by the heads of families. As it would be impossible for an enumerator to get through this task in the course of the census night for more than a comparatively small number of houses, the operation is divided into two processes. First a preliminary record is made a short time before the night in question, of the persons ordinarily residing in each house. Then, on that night, the enumerator, reinforced if necessary by aid drafted from outside, revisits his beat, and brings the record up to date by striking out the absent and entering the new arrivals. The average extent of each beat is arranged to include about 300 persons. Thus, in 1901, not far from a million men were required for enumeration alone. To this army must be added the controlling agency, of at least a tenth of the above number, charged with the instruction of their subordinates, the inspection and correction of the preliminary record, and the transmission of the schedule books to the local centre after the census has been taken. The supply of agency for these duties is, fortunately, not deficient. Irrespective of the large number of clerks, village scribes and state and municipal employés which can be drawn upon with but slight interruption of official routine, there is a fair supply of casual literary labour up to the moderate standard required. The services, too, of the educated public are often voluntarily placed at the disposal of the local authorities for the census night, with no desire for remuneration beyond out-of-pocket expenses, and the addition, perhaps, of a personal letter of thanks from the chief official of the district. By means of a well-organized chain of tabulating centres, the preliminary totals, by sexes, of the 294 millions enumerated in 1901 were given to the public within a fortnight of the census, and differed from the final results by no more than 94,000, or .03%. The schedule adopted contains in addition to the standard subjects of sex, age, civil condition, birthplace, occupation and infirmities, columns for mother-tongue, religion and sect, and caste and sub-caste. It is printed in about 20 languages. The results for each province or large state are tabulated locally, by districts or linguistic divisions. The final compilation is done by a provincial superintendent, who prepares his own report upon the operations and results. This work has usually an interest not found in corresponding reports elsewhere, in the prominent place necessarily occupied in it by the ethnographical variety of the population.

Foreign Countries

Inquiries by local officials in connexion with measures of taxation, such as the hearth-tax in France, were instituted in continental Europe as early as the 14th century; but as the basis of an estimate of population they were intrinsically untrustworthy. Going outside Europe, an extreme instance of the results of combining a census with more definite administrative objects may be found in the census of China in 1711, when the population enumerated in connexion with a poll-tax and liability to military service, was returned as 28 millions; but forty years later, when the question was that of the measures for the relief of widespread distress, the corresponding total rose to 103 millions! The notion of obtaining a periodical record of population and its movement, dissociated from fiscal or other liabilities, originated, as stated above, in Sweden, where, in 1686, the birth and death registers, till then kept voluntarily by the parish clergy, were made compulsory and general, the results for each year being communicated to a central office. A census, as a special undertaking, was not, however, carried out in that country until 1749. The example of Sweden was followed in the next year by Finland, and twenty years later, by Norway, where the parish register was an existing institution, as in the neighbouring state. Several other countries followed suit in the course of the 18th century, though the results were either partial or inaccurate. Amongst them was Spain, though here a trustworthy census was not obtained until 1857, or perhaps 1887. Some of the small states of Italy, too, recorded their population in the middle of the above century, but the first general census of that country took place in 1861, after its unification. In Austria, a census was taken in 1754 by the parish clergy, concurrently with the civil authorities and the military commandants. Hungary was in part enumerated thirty years later. The starting-point of the modern census, however, in either part of the dual monarchy, was not until 1857. Speaking generally, most of the principal countries began the current series of their censuses between 1825 and 1860. The German empire has taken its census quinquennially since its foundation, but long before 1871 a census at short intervals used to be taken in all the states of the Zollverein, for the purpose of ascertaining the contribution to the federal revenue, the amount of which was revisable every three years. The last great country to enter the census field was Russia. From 1721, what are known as revisions of the population were periodically carried out, for military, fiscal and police purposes; but these were conducted by local officials without central direction or systematic organization. In 1897 a general census was taken as synchronously throughout the empire as was found possible. It embraced a population second to that of India alone, as China, probably the most populous country in the world, has not yet been subjected to this test. The inquiry was made in great detail, under central control, and on a plan sufficiently elastic to suit the requirements of so varied a country and population. As in India, the schedules had to be issued in an unusual number of languages, and were dealt with locally in the earlier stages of tabulation. The principal regions of which the population is still a matter of mere conjecture are the Turkish empire, Persia, Afghanistan, China and the Indo-Chinese peninsula, in Asia, nearly nine-tenths of Africa, and a considerable portion of South America.  (J. A. B.) 

United States

Modern census-taking seems to have originated in the United States. Professor von Mayr declares in a recent and authoritative work, “It was no European state, but the United States of America that made a beginning of census-taking in the large and true sense of that word,” and Professor H. Wagner, writing of the censuses of Sweden, said to have been taken in the 18th century, uses these words, “Since 1749 careful parish registers have been kept by the clergy and have in general the value of censuses.” The same authority, although mentioning a reported census of Norway in 1769, indicates his conviction that the first real census of that country was in 1815. Sweden, Norway and the United States are the only countries with any claim to have taken the first modern census, as distinguished from a register of tax-payers, &c., the lineal descendant of the old Roman census, and the innovation seems to be due to the United States. If so, the first modern census was the American census of 1790. At the present date more than three-fifths of the estimated population of the world has been enumerated in this way. It is of interest accordingly to note how and why the device originated.

The Federal census, which began in 1790 and has been taken every ten years since under a mandate contained in the Constitution of the United States, was the outgrowth of a controversy in the convention which prepared the document. Representatives of the smaller states as a rule claimed that the vote, and so the influence, of the states in the proposed government should be equal. Representatives of the larger states as a rule claimed that their greater population and wealth were entitled to recognition. The controversy ended in the creation of a bicameral legislature in the lower branch of which the claim of the larger states found recognition, while in the upper, the Senate, each state had two votes. In the House of Representatives seats were to be distributed in proportion to the population, and the convention, foreseeing rapid changes of population, ordained an enumeration of the inhabitants and a redistribution or reapportionment of seats in the House of Representatives every ten years.

The provision of the Constitution on the subject is as follows:— “Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this Union according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other persons. The actual enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct.”

In 1790 the population was reported classed as slaves and free, the free classed as white and others, the free whites as males and females, and the free white males as under or above sixteen years of age. In 1800 and 1810 the same classification was preserved, except that five age-groups instead of two were given for free white males and the same five were applied also to free white females. In connexion with the census of 1810 an attempt, perhaps the earliest in any country, was made to gather certain industrial statistics showing “the number, nature, extent, situation and value of the arts and manufactures of the United States.” In 1820 a sixth age class was introduced for free white males, an age classification of four periods was applied to the free coloured and the slaves of each sex, and the number of aliens and of persons engaged in agriculture, in manufactures and in commerce was called for. The inquiry into industrial statistics begun in 1810 was also repeated and extended.

In 1830 thirteen age classes were employed for free whites of each sex, and six for the free coloured and the slaves of each sex. The number of aliens, of the deaf and dumb and the blind were also gathered.

The law under which the census of 1840 was taken contained a novel provision for the preparation in connexion with the census of statistical tables giving “such information in relation to mines, agriculture, commerce, manufactures and schools as will exhibit a full view of the pursuits, industry, education and resources of the country.” This was about the first indication of a tendency, which grew in strength for half a century, to load the Federal census with inquiries having no essential or necessary connexion with its main purpose, which was to secure an accurate enumeration of the population as a basis for a reapportionment of seats in the House of Representatives. This tendency was largely due to a doubt whether the Federal government under the Constitution possessed the power to initiate general statistical inquiries, a doubt well expressed in the 9th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica by Francis A. Walker, himself a prominent member of the party whose contention he states:—

“The reservation by the states of all rights not granted to the general government makes it fairly a matter of question whether purely statistical inquiries, other than for the single purpose of apportioning representation, could be initiated by any other authority than that of the states themselves. That large party which advocates a strict and jealous construction of the constitution would certainly oppose any independent legislation by the national Congress for providing a registration of births, marriages and deaths, or for obtaining social and industrial statistics, whether for the satisfaction of the publicist or for the guidance of the legislature. Even though the supreme court should decide such legislation to be within the grant of powers to the general government, the distrust and opposition, on constitutional grounds, of so large a portion of the people, could not but go far to defeat the object sought.”

The difficulty stated in the foregoing quotation, although now mainly of historic importance, exerted great influence upon the development of the American census prior to 1900.

The pioneer work of the census of 1840 in the fields of educational statistics, statistics of occupations, of defective classes and of causes of death, suffered from numerous errors and defects. Public discussion of them contributed to secure radical modifications of scope and method at the census of 1850. Before the census law was passed, a census board, consisting of three members of the president’s cabinet, was appointed to draft plans for the inquiry, and the essential features of its report prepared after consultation with a number of leading statisticians were embodied in the law.

The census of 1850 was taken on six schedules, one for free inhabitants, one for slaves, one for deaths during the preceding year, one for agriculture, one for manufactures and one for social statistics. The last asked for returns regarding valuation, taxation, educational and religious statistics, pauperism, crime and the prevailing rates of wages in each municipal division. It was also the first American census to give a line of the schedule to each person, death or establishment enumerated, and thus to make the returns in the individual form indispensable for a detailed classification and compilation. The results of this census were tabulated with care and skill, and a preliminary analysis gave the salient results and in some cases compared them with European figures.

The census of 1860 followed the model of its predecessor with slight changes. When the time for the next census approached it was felt that new legislation was needed, and a committee of the House of Representatives, with James A. Garfield, afterwards president of the United States, at its head, made a careful and thorough study of the situation and reported an excellent bill, which passed the House, but was defeated by untoward influences in the Senate. In consequence the census of 1870 was taken with the outgrown machinery established twenty years earlier, a law characterized by Francis A. Walker, the superintendent of the census, who administered it, as “clumsy, antiquated and barbarous.” It suffered also from the fact that large parts of the country had not recovered from the ruin wrought by four years of civil war. In consequence this census marks the lowest ebb of American census work. Tie accuracy of the results is generally denied by competent experts. The serious errors were errors of omission, were probably confined in the main to the Southern states, and were especially frequent among the negroes.

Since 1870 the development of census work in the United States has been steady and rapid. The law, which had been prepared for the census of 1870 by the House committee, furnished a basis for greatly improved legislation in 1879, under which the tenth census was taken. By this law the census office for the first time was allowed to call into existence and to control an adequate local staff of supervisors and enumerators. The scope of the work was so extended as to make the twenty-two quarto volumes of the tenth census almost an encyclopaedia, not only of the population, but also of the products and resources of the United States. Probably no other census in the world has ever covered so wide a range of subjects, and perhaps none except that of India and the eleventh American census has extended through so many volumes. The topics usually contained in a census suffered from the great addition of other and less pertinent matter, and the reputation of the work was unfavourably affected by the length of time required to prepare and publish the volumes (the last ones not appearing until near the end of the decade), the original underestimate of the cost of the work, which made frequent supplementary appropriations necessary, the resignation of the superintendent, Francis A. Walker, in 1882, and the disability and death of his successor, Charles W. Seaton. The eleventh census was taken under a law almost identical with that of the tenth, and extended through twenty-five large volumes, presenting a work almost as encyclopaedic, but much more distinctively statistical.

The popular opinion of a census, at least in the United States, depends largely upon the degree to which its figures for the population of the country, of states, and especially of cities, meet or fail to meet the expectations of the interested public. Judged by this standard, the census of 1890 was less favourably received than that of 1880. The enumerated population of the country in 1880 was larger than had been anticipated; and in the face of these figures it was difficult for local complaints, even where they were made, to find hearing and acceptance. But according to the eleventh census the decennial rate of growth of population fell suddenly from over 30%, which the figures had shown between 1870 and 1880, and in every preceding decade of the century, except that of the Civil War, to less than 25%, in spite of an immigration nearly double that of any preceding decade. For this change no adequate explanation was offered by the census office. Hence the protests of those who believed that the figures for population were too small swelled into a general chorus of dissatisfaction. But the census was probably more correct than the critics. Most of the motives influencing popular estimates of population in the United States tend to exaggeration. The convention which drafted the Constitution of the United States attempted to secure a balance of interests by apportioning both representatives in Congress and direct taxes according to population. A passage in The Federalist suggests the motives of the convention as follows:—

“As the accuracy of the census to be obtained by Congress will necessarily depend in a considerable degree on the disposition if not co-operation of the states, it is of great importance that the states should feel as little bias as possible to swell or reduce the amount of their numbers. Were their share of representation alone to be governed by this rule, they would have an interest in exaggerating their inhabitants. Were the rule to decide their share of taxation alone, a contrary temptation would prevail. By extending the rule to both objects the states will have opposite interests, which will control and balance each other, and produce a requisite impartiality.”

With the disappearance of direct taxation as a source of federal revenue, the motive mentioned for understating the population disappeared. On the other hand, the desire for many representatives in Congress has been reinforced by the more influential feelings of local pride and of rivalry with other cities of somewhat similar size. Hence a complaint that the population is overstated is seldom heard, and hence, also, popular charges of an under-count afford little evidence that the population was really larger than stated by the census.

After the detailed tabulation had been completed, it was shown that the number of persons under ten years of age in 1890 was surprisingly small, and that this deficiency in children was a leading cause of the slow growth in population. Before the tabulation had been made Francis A. Walker wrote:—“If the birth-rate among the previously existing population did not suffer a sharp decline ... the census of 1890 cannot be vindicated. To ascertain the facts we must await the tabulation of the population by periods of life, and ascertain how many of the inhabitants of the United States of 1890 were under ten years of age.” These results thus confirmed the accuracy of the count of 1890. Efforts to invalidate the census returns by comparison with the registration records of Massachusetts cannot be deemed conclusive, since in the United States, as in Great Britain, the census must be deemed more accurate and less subject to error than registration records. A strong argument in favour of the eleventh census, apart from its self-consistency, is that its results as a whole fit in with the subsequent state enumerations. In eleven cases such enumerations have been taken; and on computing from them and the results of the federal census of 1880 what the population at the date of the eleventh census should have been, if the annual rate of increase had been uniform, it appears that in no case, except New York City and Oregon, was the difference between the enumerations and these estimates over 4%. In Oregon about 30,000 more people were found in 1890 than the estimate would lead one to expect; in New York city, about 100,000 less. It seems not improbable that in the latter, where the difficulties incident to a count during the summer are almost insurmountable, serious omissions occurred. Still, such a comparison confirms the accuracy of the eleventh census as a whole.

The results of the twelfth census (1900) further refute the argument that would maintain the eleventh census to be inaccurate because it showed a smaller rate of increase in population during the preceding decade than had been recorded by other censuses during earlier decades. The rate of increase during the decade ending in 1900 was even less than that for the preceding decade; and it is impossible that a falling off so marked could in two successive enumerations be the result of sheer inaccuracy. The rate of increase from 1890 to 1900, eliminating from the computation the population of Alaska, Hawaii, Indian Territory and Indian reservations, was 20.7; the rate of increase if these places are included—in which case the figures of the population of Hawaii in 1890 must be taken from the census of the Hawaiian government in that year—was 21%.

The law regulating the twelfth census deserves to rank with those of 1790, 1850 and 1879 as one of the four important laws relative to census work. By this law the census office was far more independent than ever before. Appointments and removals were made by the director of the census rather than by the secretary of the interior, and in all plans for the execution of the law the head of the office was responsible for success. The law divided the subjects of census inquiry into two parts—first, those of primary importance, requiring the aid of the enumerator; and, secondly, those of subsidiary importance, capable of production without the aid of the enumerator. The former had to be finished and published by 1st July 1902; the latter were not to be undertaken until the former were well advanced towards completion. By this means the attention of the office could be concentrated on a small number of subjects rather than distributed over the long list treated in the volumes of the tenth and eleventh censuses.

Under the federal form of government, with its delegation of all residuary powers to the several states, the United States have no system of recording deaths, births and marriages. Hence there is no such basis as exists in nearly every other civilized state for a national system of registration, and the country depends upon the crude method of enumerators’ returns for its information on vital statistics, except in the states and cities which have established a trustworthy registration system of their own. These are the New England states and a few others in their vicinity or influenced by their example. Enumerators’ returns in this field are so incomplete that hardly two-thirds of the deaths which have occurred in any community during the preceding year are obtained by an enumerator visiting the families, no satisfactory basis for the computation of death-rates is afforded, and the returns have comparatively little scientific value. In the regions where census tables and interpretations are derived from registration records kept by the several states or cities they are often made more complete than those in the state or municipal documents. The census of agriculture is also liable to a wide margin of error, owing to defects in farm accounts and the inability of many farmers to state the amount or the value even of the leading crops. The census figures relate to the calendar year preceding 1st June 1900, and hurried and careless answers about the preceding year’s crop are almost sure to have been given by many farmers in the midst of the summer’s work.

The difficulties facing the manufacturing census were of a different character. A large proportion of the industries of the country keep satisfactory accounts, and can answer the questions with some correctness. But manufacturers are likely to suspect the objects of the census, and to fear that the information given will be open to the public or betrayed to competitors. Furthermore, the manufacturing schedule presupposes some uniformity in the method of accounting among different companies or lines of business, and this is often lacking. Another source of error in the manufacturing census of the United States is that the words of the census law are construed as requiring an enumeration of the various trades and handicrafts, such as carpentering. The deficiencies in such returns are gross and notorious, but the census office feels obliged to seek for them and to report what it finds, however incomplete or incorrect the results may be. Even on the population returns certain answers, such as the number of the divorced or the number unable to read and write, may be open to question.

The wide range of the American census, and the publication of uncertain figures, find a justification in the fact that the development of accurate census work requires a long educational process in the office, and, above all, in the community. Rough approximations must always precede accurate measurements; and these returns, while often inaccurate, are better than nothing, and probably improve with each decade.

Besides, the breadth of its scope, in which the American census stands unrivalled, the most important American contribution to census work has been the application of electricity to the tabulation of the results, as was first done in 1890. The main difficulties which this method reduced were two. The production of tables for so enormous a population as that of the United States through the method of tallying by hand requires a great number of clerks and a long period of time, and when complete cannot be verified except by a repetition of the process. The new method abbreviates the time, since an electric current can tally almost simultaneously the data, the tallying of which by hand would be separated by appreciable intervals. The method also renders comparatively easy the verification of the results of certain selected parts.

Judged by European standards the cost of the American census is very great. The following table gives the total and the per capita cost of each enumeration.

Date. Cost. Date. Cost.
Total in
Per Capita
in cents.
Total in
Per Capita
in cents.
1790 44,377 1.12 1850 1,423,351  6.13
1800 66,109 1.24 1860 1,969,377  6.26
1810 178,445 2.46 1870 3,421,198  8.87
1820 208,526 2.16 1880 5,790,678 11.48
1830 378,545 2.94 1890 11,547,127 18.33
1840 833,371 4.88 1900 16,116,930 21.16

For the sake of comparison it may be stated that the per capita cost of the English census of 1901 was 2.24 cents, or little more than one-tenth that of the American census. This difference is due in part to the greater scope and complexity of the American census, and in part to the fact that in the United States the field work is done by well-paid enumerators, while in England it is done in most cases by the heads of families, who are not paid.

The course of events has clearly established the fact that the authority of the Federal government in this field is greater than the strict constructionists of a previous generation as represented by General Walker in the passage already quoted believed it to be. Decision after decision of individual instances has made it a settled practice for the Federal government to co-operate with or to supplement the state governments in the gathering of statistics that may furnish a basis for state or Federal legislation. The law has allowed the Federal census office in its discretion to compile and publish the birth statistics of divisions in which they are accurately kept; one Federal report on the statistics of marriages and divorces throughout the country from 1867 to 1886 inclusive was published in 1889, and a second for the succeeding twenty-year period was published in 1908–1909; an annual volume gives the statistics of deaths for about half the population of the country, including all the states and cities which have approximately complete records of deaths; Federal agencies like the bureau of labour and the bureau of corporations have been created for the purpose of gathering certain social and industrial statistics, and the bureau of the census has been made a permanent statistical office.

The Federal census office has been engaged in the compilation and publication of statistics of many sorts. Among its important lines of work may be mentioned frequent reports during the cotton ginning season upon the amount of cotton ginned, supplemental census reports upon occupations, on employees and wages, and on further interpretation of various population tables, reports on street and electric railways, on mines and quarries, on electric light and power plants, on deaths in the registration area 1900–1904, on benevolent institutions, on the insane, on paupers in almshouses, on the social statistics of cities and on the census of manufactures in 1905. Congress has recently entrusted it with still further duties, and it has developed into the main statistical office of the Federal government, finding its nearest analogue probably in the Imperial Statistical Office in Berlin.  (W. F. W.)