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Why the Census is Crucial for Data Analytics

Authors Photo Andrew Peloe | September 17, 2020

Between 2018 and 2021, 150 countries and territories around the world are scheduled to conduct a census. For data users everywhere, this means an influx of new statistics to ingest into analytics workflows. Results of these censuses will be used to update data sources that may have gone stale since the last census, and boost the accuracy of future analyses with new insights.

As the product manager for the Precisely Demographics data portfolio, I thought it would be interesting to share a brief history of the UK Census and why it still remains relevant over 200 years since the first.

There have been twenty-one censuses carried out every ten years in the UK since the first in 1801. The Second World War meant that there was no census in 1941, making the subsequent count of the population in 1951 highly important. At this point, the population of Britain had risen beyond 50 million for the first time. As post-war slum clearance began, questions about outside bathrooms and household amenities were introduced in an effort to improve the health of the nation. Even almost seventy years ago, national censuses were used to gather data related not only to population count, but also lifestyles. The results offered factual evidence to inform socioeconomic and community planning decisions impacting millions across the UK.

Questions about ethnicity were introduced in the UK’s 1991 census. For the first time, researchers could understand the demographic patterns in population using another dimension, and local government gained huge insights into their constituents. When considering how much ethnicity data is used in demographic analytics today, it is astounding to think that the British census has only been collecting it for thirty years. But with the census only being conducted every ten years, it is not uncommon to see drastic changes between each count.

For example, when looking at the 2011 population of England and Wales compared to that of the same regions in 1801, there is an increase of 47 million. This comparison provides a full record of changing population characteristics captured across 200 years of hugely dynamic social change. Each census provides critical information about a nation’s population, and over time have come to include supplementary details that help to explain population trends (housing information, ethnicity, etc.). Of course looking at the ten year intervals there will be a less drastic increase in population, but a decade is still a long time to go between collecting statistics.

So in a time of unprecedented social change, massive flows of data, and technologies that can process data on the fly, are censuses still relevant?

Yes! Right now, censuses remain the only large-scale surveys that can provide a comprehensive estimate of populations and their characteristics. This is obviously central to government planning at multiple levels, where huge amounts of funding are allocated and government representation is determined.

Precisely Data Experience

Censuses remain the only large-scale surveys that can provide a comprehensive estimate of populations and their characteristics. But with censuses being conducted every ten years, keeping that demographic data up-to-date is key. Precisely’s demographic datasets help keep these rich assets relevant in the periods between censuses. Sample Precisely Demographics data for free in the Precisely Data Experience.

The insights provided by census data are also informative for the commercial sector. Businesses ranging from small local retailers to multinational corporations rely on demographic data to decide where to expand, or how to best address their target market. Demographic data collected by the census gives these commercial businesses the ability to analyze markets at a hyper-local or national level, and everything in between, to truly understand consumers. Census data provides geographic statistics related to average age, income, or education level, which can help businesses locate target populations or decide where to open a new store. These same insights can also be used to develop compelling marketing and advertising campaigns, enticing consumers away from the competition.

But with censuses being conducted every ten years, keeping that demographic data up-to-date is key. In today’s hyper-connected and fast-changing economy, neither a government nor a commercial business can rely on the same statistics for ten years. Precisely’s Estimates and Projections demographic datasets help keep these rich assets relevant in the periods between censuses. Updated annually by our in-house team of demographic specialists, Estimates and Projections datasets build upon census information to provide up-to-date population information, ensuring demographic data analysis does not go stale in between censuses. Estimates and Projections deliver population adjusted data for the current year, as well as three, five, and ten year estimates to enable future strategic planning.

Despite the vast amounts of data collected daily from IoT devices and digital transactions, censuses remain crucial to demographic analysis for the population statistics they provide at a nationwide level. Augmenting census data with Estimates and Projections data allows users to bridge the gap between ten year censuses and derive the most accurate population insights for their organization.

Sample Precisely Demographics data for free in the Precisely Data Experience.