Handbooks of Research Methods and Applications series
Edited by Robert Stimson
Chapter 7: Using census data: an Australian example
For much social science research it is crucial to have a complete count of the population of a nation or area. This is important either to examine behaviour or characteristics across the entire population for findings regarding a subset of the population to be placed in context, or to upscale the results of sample surveys to the total population. However, there are few sources of population data which cover, or indeed seek to cover, the entire population of an area. The population registers maintained by a few countries in Europe are one such source although increased international mobility is presenting them with some challenges. However, the most universal source of population data which seeks to cover the total population is the population census. Most nations undertake a census of their population every ten years in the years ending 0 or 1 (United Nations, 2013). A census is a headcount of the population of a nation and a number of their characteristics taken at a single point in time – usually midnight, midweek and midwinter – to ensure that as many people as possible are at ‘home’ so that they can be readily counted. In effect it is a national stocktake or a snapshot picture of the national population at that point in time. More correctly it is better seen as a single frame in a moving picture because populations are constantly changing as a result of births, deaths, migration, ageing and shifts in other characteristics.
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