How does the census work and who should be involved

aThe 2022 census begins this Sunday, and those chosen at random for the Great Referendum will be notified by mail. But is participation in it compulsory – and what is the census anyway? Below are answers to the most frequently asked questions.

What do you mean by enumeration?

Census is the technical word for census, so it is a kind of country inventory. As of May 15, 2022, the statistical offices of the federal and state governments will survey more than 30 million citizens nationwide to find out how many people live in Germany, and how they live and work. Surveys must be completed by mid-August. The results of the 2022 census are expected to be available by the end of 2023.

Why are there censuses?

Policy decisions are usually made at the federal, state, city, and local levels on the basis of population and housing stock. These should be as up-to-date as possible. So the aim of censuses is to find a reliable basis for planning political and economic decisions. For example, circles are divided based on this data.

A census aims to determine the exact population. This can be used to correct inaccuracies in population records. The last census in 2011 showed, for example, that fewer people live in many cities and communities than had been assumed. Since the amount of payments out of the financial equation is measured by the population, this has sometimes had painful financial consequences for cities.

Is the census mandatory?

Yeah. Under EU Regulation No. 763/2008, the EU obliges all member states to register their residents based on specific criteria. This makes it possible to compare the results with each other. In Germany, the census law came into effect on December 3, 2019. For example, it specifies what data should be collected.

Participation in the census is also mandatory. According to the 2022 Census Act, selected citizens are required to provide information. You should not refuse to participate – otherwise, according to the Federal Office, there is a risk of paying a fine.

How does the census work?

Like the previous census in 2011, this year’s census is a so-called registry-based census. This means that existing data is used – such as registration data from the records of public administrations. In general, however, this data is not very accurate and up-to-date, which is why a mere enumeration of population registries is not performed.

The reason for this is that municipalities rely on being informed about demographic changes – such as births and deaths, but also on changes in residence. This is not always the case. It can happen that a person is already in the population registry, but no longer lives in the specified place of residence. On the contrary, it may be the case that a person lives in a place but is not included in the population registry at that address.

These dead and missing files should not be included in the enumeration. That’s why the census works like this: all registration data is sent to the official statistics. There they are grouped together in one region under strict data protection regulations. In addition, nearly ten percent of the population—about 10.3 million people—were surveyed in a short interview. This sample questionnaire also collects data that is not available in records, such as information about educational background or occupation.

Due to the lack of comprehensive records of apartments and buildings, 17.5 million homes and apartments were surveyed by mail. Another survey pertains to residence halls (eg student residences) and shared accommodation (eg, seniors and nursing homes or homes for children and youth). Experience has shown that the records there are particularly inaccurate because there are frequent moves. In this way, a registry-based census is intended to provide reliable results, although not all German citizens are questioned.

Who does the census?

The Federal Statistical Office and the statistical offices of the federal states are responsible for the census. It prepares the survey, coordinates implementation and monitors quality standards. The Federal Statistical Office is responsible for receiving, processing and storing data.

Federal state offices are responsible for surveys in their federal states. They collect building and apartment census data and ensure that survey offices are set up in all municipalities. These in turn recruit survey officials and coordinate the survey of people on site.

Who were interviewed in the census?

Ten percent of Germans—about 10.3 million randomly selected people—are asked for their name, gender, marital status, and nationality, among other things.

How does scanning work and what does it ask for?

About 100,000 survey officers will be deployed across the country. On a previously announced date, the interviewer in question comes to the previously randomly selected persons. Then questions about family members – such as names, gender, and marital status – are asked. The whole thing takes five to ten minutes. This is defining the population.

For 400,000 of about 10.3 million people surveyed, the short personal interview is repeated at a later time.

There is also an extended questionnaire for three-quarters of the respondents. For example, data on school or occupation qualifications are collected. This survey then takes another 10 to 15 minutes. Respondents can answer these questions directly in a personal conversation, fill out a paper survey or click on an online survey later.

Personal details such as name and date of birth are compared with population registry data in order to identify population registry over- and under-registration and population figures for Germany and individual communities. According to the Federal Statistical Office, this sensitive data will be separated from the evaluation characteristics and deleted as soon as possible.

There are no personal interviews in the enumeration of buildings and apartments. Owners and administrations of living quarters will receive a letter with online access data on the main date. There they answer questions about apartment size, year of construction, potential vacancies and why, net cold rent, type of heating and energy source for the residential property. The results should serve as a database to address problems such as housing shortages or energy-related renovation.

Additionally, the Building and Apartment Census asks for the surname and first name of two tenants. In this way, people are assigned to their residential homes. This can be used to derive the number of square meters of living space that an individual or large family has on average.

This is what the sample household survey personal questionnaires look like in the 2022 Census.


This is what the sample household survey personal questionnaires look like in the 2022 Census.
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Photo: dpa

What about data protection in the census?

The Federal Statistical Office stresses that the data protection requirements of the Federal Statistical Act and the General Data Protection Regulation have the highest priority. All statistical office employees and all survey officials are subject to a statutory duty of confidentiality. Accordingly, the data will not be passed to the authorities outside official statistics and will only be evaluated anonymously. Personal data should be deleted as soon as possible. Only summary results will be published later, which does not allow any conclusions to be drawn about individuals, homes or buildings.

What is the difference between enumeration and small enumeration?

The term small census means ‘small census’. This is an annual statistical survey in which one percent of households are surveyed each year. A micro-census was first conducted in 1957. Compared to a census, a mini-census asks more detailed questions, such as individual occupational groups and family structures. The aim of the small census is to collect data on the economic and social situation of the population in Germany.

Unlike a census, a small census provides more accurate information about important changes in the economy and society. In these short periods of time, changes in data can be identified more quickly and data gaps between large enumerations can be bridged.

How often is the census conducted?

The European Union obliges its member states to conduct a population census every ten years. According to the schedule, this could have been the case in Germany in 2021, but the census has been pushed back to 2022 due to the Corona pandemic.

How can I distinguish official surveyors from criminals?

Unfortunately, criminals also use census polls for their machinations and pretend to be survey officers. You should therefore ensure that the interviewees have announced their attendance in writing about a week before the survey. In addition, survey officers have a corresponding identification card with them. Nor do they have to be allowed into the apartment. Scanning can also be done at or in front of the door.

When respondents are asked about income, debt, banking information, identity documents, passwords, signatures, or vaccination status, they should be suspicious because no data on this may be collected. If you have any doubts, you should contact the police or responsible state office to get the statistics.

You can see the format of the official questionnaires on the census website www.zensus2022.de.

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