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Social Science and the U.S. 2020 Census

"The chief instrument of American statistics is the census, which should accomplish a two-fold object. It should serve the country by making a full and accurate exhibit of the elements of national life and strength, and it should serve the science of statistics by so exhibiting general results that they may be compared with similar data obtained by other nations."
James A. Garfield
20th American president

The United States Census, in the mandated decennial census and products like the American Community Survey, is the premiere source of longitudinal public data about the population of the United States available. As such, it is of immense importance to social and behavioral researchers as well as the more traditional audiences of policymakers, politicians and the public. This collection of articles and resources offers the social science community opinions, updates and tips about the Census process, funding and uses.

Census day question

Looking at Censuses Past and Future: A Talk With Andrew Whitby

In an age where issues of ethnicity and identity matter, as well, as in the United States, political representation, the import and impact of censuses, along with how they are structured, carried out and analyzed, matters greatly. And with the U.S. Census being conducted this year – today, April 1, is Census Day, although coronavirus-marred collection of data will continue until August 14 – this is an apt time to talk with author Andrew Whitby about censuses past, present and future.


How Prisoners, Soldiers and Missionaries Complicate the Census

There are three groups that have consistently posed problems to the U.S. census throughout history and continue to spark debate to this day: military members, Mormon missionaries and prisoners.

Empty university classroom

COVID, the Census, and the Looming University Undercount

Counties with large universities depend heavily on student responses to the decennial census, because the census counts determine the levels of federal funding communities receive. And if those students are counted as being there …?


Finding Students: ALA Contributing to the 2020 Census

 The American Library Association is preparing academic libraries for the U.S. Census — the decennial count of every person living […]


A Century Ago, Congress Dismissed a U.S. Census

Census 2020 is far from the first census to set off bitter political fights. One hundred years ago, results from Census 1920 initiated a decadelong struggle about how to allocate a state’s seats in Congress. The political arguments were so bitter that Congress eventually decided they would not use Census 1920 results.

Exploring census cover

Research and the Census: Exploring the Labor Force

The concept of the labor force describes a person’s employment status, and like all U.S. Census Bureau definitions, the terminology is quite specific. The labor force consists of all people 16 years of age or older who are working (employed), are not working but are actively seeking work (unemployed)…

Exploring census cover

What is Census Data?

When most Americans think of the census, they think of the 10-year or decennial census that is used to gather basic data about the total population. The decennial census is an actual count of people and housing units, and it serves as the baseline for measuring and generating other census data-sets…

Old map with dragons

Lying With Maps and Census Data

Geographer Frank Donnelly notes that census geography and maps are not automatically reliable – they can be used to intentionally skew research findings.


The Census Citizenship Question: A Primer

The social science community has a large stake in the accuracy of the U.S. Census for the community’s contued research. Here, law professor Jonathan Entin discusses the legal controversy swirling around the impact a question on citizenship has on the census, something the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing about this week.


What Census Data Miss about American Diversity

In the current volume of ‘The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science,’ the editors ask: is the current census ethno-racial classification system doing a good job? Does it accurately reflect who we are, enabling us to track important social phenomena? Does it provide statistics helpful to understanding demographic dynamics and who we are likely to become in the years ahead?

People icons in US

Democracy Threatened When Census Undercounts Populations

The 2020 U.S. Census is still two years away, but experts and civil rights groups are already disputing the results. Professor Emily Merchant’s research on the international history of demography demonstrates that the question of how to equitably count the population is not new, nor is it unique to the United States.


COSSA, Others Fear Fallout from Census Including Citizenship Question

UPDATED: Many academic groups that use U.S Census data for research fear the negative effects of including a question about citizenship on the 2020 count. “Adding a new citizenship question to the 2020 Census would destroy any chance for an accurate count, discard years of careful research, and increase costs significantly,” wrote The Leadership Conference, an umbrella group.



The Census Project is a broad-based coalition of national, state, and local organizations that support an inclusive and accurate 2020 Census and American Community Survey. Its member organizations, representing the private, public, non-profit, and academic sectors, rely on objective data that the Census Bureau produces to inform evidence-based investment, policy and planning decisions.


A blog post from the U.S. Census Bureau by Misty L. Heggeness, Marta Murray-Close and Katie Stevens details how some of the bureau’s leading social scientists highlight the ways they harness big data.

This links to the Census Bureau’s center that applies behavioral science methods to the design and evaluation of Census Bureau data collection instruments and information products, and conducts methodological research to improve the quality of data from surveys and censuses.


Sociologist John R. Logan of Brown University addresses how new politicization and debates, as well as new tools like GIS mapping and spatial analysis, affect the nexus of the U.S. Census and social science in an article from City & Community.

From our friends at Data-Planet: The US Census Bureau made available a Statistical Testing Tool in 2018 to help users easily test the statistical significance of ACS estimates.

In this paper from Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, Hephzibah V. Strmic-Pawl, Brandon A. Jackson, Steve Garner critique racial and ethnic categories on the U.S. Census with a focus on how the census categories affect opportunities to track racial and ethnic inequality.


Professor David Blane of the ESRC International Centre for Life Course Studies, professor Heather Joshi, president of the Society for Lifecourse and Longitudinal Studies, and professor Les Mayhew of City University, testify before Parliament in 2011.

A collection of resources collected by ALISS is a not-for-profit unincorporated professional society centered on libraries.