The census debate beyond Canada

Turns out government prying isn’t the issue

As the Canadian federal government’s decision to cancel the long version of the census questionnaire turns into an unexpected political fiasco, the gradual demise of traditional census-taking elsewhere in the world continues apace. But in Europe, at least, the reason some countries are abandoning the old-fashioned way of collecting information about their people has nothing to do with claims of government intrusiveness. According to this Economist article, the shift has to do with the availability of massive computerized data bases, which government statisticians can mine more efficiently for the sorts of facts that they used to have to ask citizens to provide directly. Scandinavia leads the trend, with Britain expected to follow soon. The US remains committed to old-school census, as do some historians and statisticians, who are alarmed by the move away from periodically surveying the populace.


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