Radiance Blog

Unusual Questions Asked in the U.S. Census

Kevin recently taught a class on how to use U.S. Census data, and did a little historical research on census questions. He discovered a few questions asked in the past that may seem a little odd today, though they likely were quite relevant during their particular time period. They’re paraphrased below.

1. 1850 Census – How many slaves escaped from you in the last year that you did not recapture? And how many slaves did you free?
2. 1860 Census – What’s your net worth? (Asked separately for real estate and for other possessions)
3. 1870 Census – Are you not allowed to vote for some reason other than “rebellion or other crime”? (Asked only of men.)
4. 1880 Census – Were you sick enough today that you couldn’t attend to your ordinary duties? And if so, what was your sickness?
5. 1910 Census – If you are a polygamist, are your wives sisters? (Asked only of Native Americans.)
6. 1940 Census – If your home doesn’t have running water, is there a source of water within 50 feet of your home?
7. 1960 Census – Does your home have a basement? And how many television sets do you own?
8. 1970 Census – Do you enter your home through a front door, or do you enter your home through someone else’s living quarters? And do you have a battery-operated radio?

There were likely very good reasons to ask questions like these in the past, even if they may not resonate today. It makes us wonder what questions we’re being asked in the current American Community Surveys that will seem antiquated or odd 50 years from now.

Image by Norman Rockwell.



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