March 25, 2010

Sociology and the Census

KS_2010a By Karen Sternheimer

Today my 2010 Census form came in the mail, and I excitedly filled it out right away (it took less than a minute). If you are interested in sociology, the Census Bureau’s work is incredibly important. Its director, Robert M. Groves, is a sociologist who was previously a professor at the University of Michigan. Without the census we would have far less valuable information about American society. (Click here to see the 2010 Census questions).

But we don’t just have a census for sociologists. It is mandated in the U.S. Constitution to be conducted every ten years, primarily for the purpose of figuring out how many representatives each state should have in Congress. (There are 435 seats; if an area loses population they could also lose a representative and another area could gain a representative.) The census also helps to decide how to allocate funding for projects around the country.

clip_image002A census is different from a survey; while the census seeks to count the entire population, a survey typically only involves a cross-section of a population. And while surveys drawn from probability sampling are typically reliable and can help us make generalizations about a population, ideally a census includes everyone.

Of course like any research, the census faces challenges in gathering information. Many people have lost their homes in recent years and may be homeless. Census workers try hard to include everyone—including the homeless—but they can be a difficult population to track down. Others might be so accustomed to getting junk mail that they never open their census form, while some may not want to give any information to the government at all.

By law, the census is private and your personal information cannot be shared with law enforcement, immigration, tax collectors, or anyone else. After 72 years the information becomes public, so in 2082 historians and our descendents doing genealogy research can find out more about us. If you like programs such as Faces of America or Who Do You Think You Are? you might have noticed that they use old census data to trace ancestors of the celebrities featured on the show.

The census is also vital to aid our research into core areas within sociology. We find out basic information about the size of the population, and its composition by age, gender, race and ethnicity. You might wonder, for instance, why the census asks about race and ethnicity. For sociologists doing research on racial inequality, the information the census collects is vital. We can learn about residential segregation and assess how the racial/ethnic composition of an area has changed over time. We can learn if there are relationships between race and home ownership from the census too.

clip_image004The Census Bureau also conducts a regular survey, called the American Community Survey (ACS), which asks more questions than the basic census does. From the ACS, we can learn about income distribution, educational attainment, births, marriage and divorce, employment, transportation, and how often people move from place to place, to name a few topics. It’s likely that tens of thousands of research studies have been conducted using these data. (Click here to read the actual survey)

If you have done research yourself, you might have used the Statistical Abstract to locate some basic facts about the U.S. population, which is comprised of census data. From a researcher’s perspective, one of the best parts of census data in the age of the Internet is that it is easy to access and free. While once upon a time you would have to go to the library or buy data on tapes for statistical analysis, it’s mostly available online now.

In my current research, I have used census data to look at changes in divorce rates dating back to the nineteenth century, to compare changes in college attendance and graduation rates throughout the twentieth century, and to look at how the age at first marriage changed during the twentieth century.

Without data from the census, we would know very little about American society as a whole. The census helps us to identify major social changes, patterns of inequality, as well as help us understand the composition of what makes America unique. So don’t forget to fill out your 2010 Census form—you will be making your contribution to sociological research.

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Comments

I love the census as well. I can't wait until the results come in and we can take a look at the data

I had no idea the census was so important in sociology. In order to better understand the status of our culture we need to use research, and the census is a great way to do this.

I thought the census bureau only came out every 10 years to conduct the census. of course that is a silly idea. I didn't know they had a regular survey

If the cencus dosent come out to the public for 72 years does that mean that for the first 72 years the public saw zero results from thier surveys?

Andrew--good question. We get the results of the census much sooner. It's only after 72 years that any specific names can be released along with our responses.

I have been taking Sociology classes for the past two terms and find the subject fascinating. I just sent my forms back and was wondering why there weren't question about income level or if jobs had been lost in the past year or any particular questions such as that.

It is very interesting how a sociologist may look at the census. I am always wondering if the state just wants to know how much fuinding a particular area should receieve for schools, parks and recreational areas. I did not know that sociologist will look at the more in depth analysis of the census and see what the percentage rates of going to college and divorced versus still together; as well as how ethnicity and gender play a part in the census. It is interesting to me that the census tells a huge part of our cociety and how it may affect us as a whole. As a sociology student I will be looking at the census to see the dynamic inequality of residents around the area. Now, knowing that if I will be here in 72 years may change and I possiably will not be lokking at our "current" census, but more recently the census from back in day and compar them to the society I live in and see everyday.

Wow. i had no idea so much thought and importance lied in one survey. That is really neat. Its also a veery clever way to learn of all races, marriages, number of people in a household, and such statistics as those

Up until this year I did not realize how important the Census really was and what all the information that it gathers really does for our country.

The Census really is a cool thing to look into. It's interesting to see where people are moving to, and away from. It's also interesting to see what race people classify themselves as, as our county is becoming more and more of a "melting pot". I never realized that something that was so important to the government (thanks for the lesson AP US Government) could be so relevant to sociologists as well. As a high school student I was proud to be able to fill out the one for my household, as it is so currently relevant to my education.

The census seems to be incredibly important in sociology! I also didn't know that they have a regular survey they send out to households.

I never knew that a sociologist had so much to do with a census. It is a good way to find out about your area and and the different statistics. The census can tell a lot about your area and how people are affected by it. I think it is interesting that they have a survey they send to households.

The census is very important in the state because it tells us who we are, and what the country really looks like today. I like sociology because it helps most people in the census such as, it helps to get the quantitative about population and what kind the problem has the community? Moreover, sociology is part of our life since it teaches us how can you make a change? Why is important the classification of gender and what kind of thing needs the people in the future like schools , hospital, parks, jobs and teachers. For example, there are some schools overcrowded, so the children have a small place that it is not good because they need to do activities in the classroom and they need to feel comfortable. In addition, the census need to know the population because there are some people from different countries who want to study English, but sometimes is impossible since there are some classes that required small groups. I hope in this census many people sent the application for a better benefit in the future for everyone.

I think that the census is a great thing that we have. It is a good way at gaining information about population growth patterns. Even though it is sometimes hard to include everyone, they try their best to do so.

I agree with the fact that it is important to take the 2010 Census or any census that an individual may receive. Many people do not fill these out and the government or any other facility that is giving the census needs to have accurate information. This may also help with money issues too. For example if the government needs to figure out how many people need welfare they may use a census to determine this. The census is vital to any government.

I didn’t know how important the census count was until I read the blog. In addition to world population patterns, in the United States it determines how many representatives each state is allowed in the House of Representatives. When the day comes that I have to fill out my own census, I’ll be sure I do it because I know the significance of the population count.

Wow I really appreciate this article. I never knew the actual reasons the census were so important and i really didn't know how connected to sociology it is. I just thought the census counted people but it's way more complicated Thanks for this enlightening post.

I find the census very important in american society. Without the census we would have no idea, about how our country is composited, like by race, gender, or age. This article gives a great understanding about the census. I am very intrigued by this article.

I didn’t realize how beneficial the census really was, especially in sociology. This blog is filled with an abundant amount of information involving the census. However, I never actually took into consideration the negatives about the census. In today’s society, it seems as though there’s more and more homeless people because of our economy. With that being said, it seems as though it’ll be harder to predict populations, incomes, birth rates, and so much more. But, as for now, I find the census extremely beneficial and interesting to view.

I never even thought about the census being important to the sociology community. I now understand the importance of the form and the data it can uncover.

I never realized the Census was this important to not just sociologist, but also many other researchers. It is great that we have a somewhat accurate record to rely on. I also never knew that the Census keeps specific details private, I always assumed that they would have to show someone in the government if there was an illegal thing on the record.

Its funny because i never thought that the US Census had anything to do with sociology, partially because i never knew much about sociology anyways. I also assumed it was to just monitor our population as a country, But that fact that is monitors things like social changes and inequalities is quite interesting.

i think the idea of having a census is a good idea. I think it is a good way to keep track of social changes and differences between different areas.

I think the census is a wonderful thing. I truly do not understand why there are some people who seem to almost boycott doing it and turning it in. It seems easy enough to fill out, doesn't take a lot of time, and only does good!

I knew the census took the population count, but I did not know it was a vital tool for research methods for sociologist all over the world to find patterns about American society. The census is vital to find the patterns of people moving the race of people living in a city and how they react with other races. The census is a bigger deal than I thought.

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