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Census 2011- Counting the Heads

Updated on January 3, 2013

Census 2011 – Counting Heads

Census is counting the heads. Taking a census is a very important and serious exercise. Though censuses can be taken on anything like schools, hospitals, birds, elephants, vehicles or farms, the most important censuses are the national censuses on population and housing. National data from different countries can be compared if they are taken at the same time. Therefore United Nations has recommended that the national censuses be taken at least once in every 10 years, in years ending with digit ‘0’ or in the closest possible year. Many countries take their censuses in the first year of every decade censuses.

The data collected in a census are vital for statistical purposes and planning at national, provincial and district levels. In a national census, number of people, gender, age, occupation, education, income levels, language abilities, special disabilities, living conditions and the conditions of dwellings etc. are collected. As this is the first year of the decade many countries are conducting their censuses this year.

Taking a Census

History of the Censuses

Taking censuses comes from ancient times. These censuses were carried out mainly for tax purposes. Earliest known censuses were those carried out in Egypt during the times of Pharos about 5000 years back. Israel and China also have the practice of taking censuses from ancient times. The data collected in the censuses have been very useful for national planning. Therefore most countries adopted taking accurate censuses in regular intervals. A census does an actual count and collects information as against sampling in which a representative subset is counted and estimates are made to arrive at total figures. In modern times, due to controversies over the privacy of the citizens some are once again considering going back to sampling methods abandoning full censuses.

Methods used in taking a Census

Most accurate censuses are taken with human counters (enumerators) personally counting the whole population within a short period like six hours. The people are requested to stay at home or at the work places. Special enumerators are employed to count people on the roads, bus stands and railway stations. The preparations like filling up forms and questionnaires to capture personal data and the data on housing are done during the month prior to the counting day. On the counting day enumerators see the people in person by visiting homes and workplaces and entering a tick in the previously filled forms.

In more developed countries the people have the choice of filling the forms and the questionnaires on line. However the accuracy of the data and the size of the smallest division for collecting data are decides the value of the data. If the censuses are taken at constant periodicity and taken to coincide with the censuses of other countries, the data can be more useful.

Enumerators Filling Questionaires

Uses of Census Data

Census data are used for many purposes by various institutions. They are used by the governments for taxation, national planning, demarcating the electoral areas etc. Businesses use the data for marketing planning. But there are increasing opposition to the collection of data and releasing them citing the possible misuses and the impingements on privacy. In West Germany, censuses planned for 1980 and 1983 were stopped by the Constitutional Court. Some countries like Japan, New Zealand and Ireland carry out their censuses every five years.

Srilanka Census-2011

Department of Census and Statistics of Srilanka has planned the census for 2011 to be done in the third quarter of the year starting with posting of labels to counted houses from April 2011. Apart from the main census of population and housing there will be a census of Agriculture and Census of Industries to capture data especially on small scale agriculture and small scale Industries. As usual the census will be is taken on the census day by more than 150,000 enumerators.

The first mentions to population figures are found in ola manuscripts but the first systematic census on record has been done by the Dutch colonialists in the coastal areas under their rule in 1789. First census covering the whole country was taken by the British in 1827 after they took control of the Kandyan kingdom by a treaty. The total population figure from that census is 889,584 which seem to be not very accurate. Reason could be the non co-operation of the native population and the people living in remote communities not included in the figures.

The first systematic census covering the whole country was taken in 1871 and censuses were taken in regular intervals of 10 years with delay in two censuses and missing one. The census that was due in 1941 was delayed due to the World War Two and done in 1946. Next two censuses were done in 1953 and 1963 respectively. 1971 and 1981 censuses were taken without any change. 1991 census could not be taken due to unsettled situation in the country due to terrorist activities of JVP and LTTE. Though 2001 census was taken in 18 of the 25 districts population figures in seven districts in North and East had to be estimated. The 2011 census is expected to provide the population figures and other data for the whole country accurately after thirty years.

Population figures from previous censuses

2.4 million
2.8 million
3.0 million
3.6 million
4.1 million
4.5 million
5.3 million
6.7 million
8.1 million
10.6 million
12.7 million
14.8 million
18.8 million

Duty of Citizens

As the data collected in the census is very important for the government for administration, planning and the taxation purposes, it is the duty of responsible citizens to provide the correct information in the questionnaires and stay at home or workplace during the six hour period the census is taken.


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    • Sun Pen 50 profile imageAUTHOR

      Sun Pen 50 

      7 years ago from Srilanka

      Thank you very much for the encouraging comment.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      7 years ago from Chicago

      I think a census is a good and valuable thing. I appreciate your excellent writeup. You have done a good job. Thank you.

    • Sun Pen 50 profile imageAUTHOR

      Sun Pen 50 

      7 years ago from Srilanka

      Thank You Stephanie, For the info and encouraging remark.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 

      7 years ago from USA

      You make some good points on the value of a national census. I've used 1920 U.S. census data to research some of my family history and found out so many interesting facts that I wouldn't have otherwise known. I enjoyed your hub!

    • Sun Pen 50 profile imageAUTHOR

      Sun Pen 50 

      7 years ago from Srilanka

      Thank you Ann, for your visit and the comment. Yes, There is a lot to learn from a census and its results. I have missed a big part and hope to edit and add that soon. Please visit in about a week.

    • Sun Pen 50 profile imageAUTHOR

      Sun Pen 50 

      7 years ago from Srilanka

      Thank you Bobbi for your visit and the comment. See, when somebody gets into the bad habit of opposing anything and everything there is no return. Any thing good or bad or natural they will find fault of everything and everybody.( except themselves)

    • annmackiemiller profile image


      7 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England

      nicely done, we have just down our census and of course I made good use of them while studying history at uni and going my own family history.

    • BobbiRant profile image


      7 years ago from New York

      So many in America are certain the census is a conspiracy, yet it has been used for a lot of years, all of a sudden it is a 'conspiracy?' Shows how paranoid people can become. Great hub on this subject.


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