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Blogmo Day 10: An Otherwise Simple Question

December 10, 2008

census1

“What is this person’s marital status?” asks the 2000 Census.

The options:

  1. Now married
  2. Widowed
  3. Divorced
  4. Separated
  5. Never married

Seems pretty straightforward a question? The other day, while considering the number of marriages of a certain age group, I had to have far far too much information. So I downloaded the entire Marital Status Census 2000 brief. Mmmm, numbers.

Except something doesn’t track for me. With many recent Californian marriages put into legal question by the success of Proposition 8, what do they put down if it isn’t figured out in time? What if your marriage is legal in Massachusetts, but you move to Minnesota in the interim? The current proposed 2010 census questions allow for “unmarried partner” as a relationship choice, but that’s not accounting for the almost assured protest answers from gay couples who cannot get married in their own states. I’m just saying, throwing off Census stats, even by a little, throws off all sorts of things at a federal level for the next 10 years.

Another thing: do you know that your participation in the census is required by law? BY WHOM?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Adam permalink
    December 11, 2008 1:22 pm

    The Census encounters these sorts of problems all the time. They drive researchers nuts. I’ve mostly done fertility studies with Census data so here are a couple of similar observations.

    1. Up through the 1990 Census, women were asked “How many children have ever been born to you?” (or something similar). In 2000, the Census dropped the question. For anyone studying lifetime reproduction this was a huge loss.

    2. At some point within in the last 40 years the Census began asking questions about motherhood about a new group of people–women under 16. It used to be considered brash to ask such a question but then we realized it was happening so it was asked. This is much easier to correct than the first example (just exclude these woman for consistency, and count them sepereately).

    3. Don’t even get me started on how long lots of gov agencies used only “White/Black/Other” for racial status.

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