2022 Census: Answers to the most important questions about the census

AThe 2022 census begins this Sunday. Those who were randomly selected for the large referendum will be informed by post. But is it compulsory to take part in it – and what is the census anyway? Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions.

What do you mean by census?

Census is the technical word for census, so a kind of inventory of the country. From 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, how they live and work. The surveys should 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?

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

The census is intended to determine the exact population figure. This can be used to correct inaccuracies in the population registers. The most recent census in 2011, for example, showed that fewer people live in many cities and communities than had been assumed. Since the amount of payments from the financial equalization is measured by the population, this sometimes had painful financial consequences for the towns.

Is the census compulsory?

Yes. With EU regulation 763/2008, the European Union obliges all member states to record their population based on defined criteria. This makes it possible to compare the respective results with one another. In Germany, the census law came into force on December 3, 2019. For example, it determines which data should be collected.

Participation in the census is also compulsory. According to the 2022 census law, the selected citizens are required to provide information. You must not refuse to participate – otherwise, according to the Federal Office, there is a risk of a fine.

How does the census work?

Like the previous census in 2011, this year’s census is a so-called register-based census. This means that existing data is used – such as registration data from the registers of public administrations. Overall, however, these data are not very precise and up-to-date, which is why the mere counting of the population registers is not carried out.

The reason for this is that municipalities depend on being informed about changes in the population – such as births and deaths, but also changes in residence. And that’s not always the case. It can happen that a person does exist in the population register, but no longer lives at the specified place of residence. Conversely, it may be the case that a person lives in a place but is not listed in the population register at this address.

These dead files and missing items should not be included in the census. That’s why the census works like this: All registration data is sent to official statistics. There they are brought together in one area under strict data protection regulations. In addition, almost ten percent of the population – around 10.3 million people – are surveyed in a short interview. This sample survey also serves to collect data that is not available in the registers, such as information on educational background or occupation.

Since there are no comprehensive registers for apartments and buildings, around 17.5 million house and apartment owners are surveyed by post. Another survey relates to halls of residence (e.g. student dormitories) and shared accommodation (e.g. old people’s and nursing homes or children’s and youth homes). Experience has shown that the registers there are particularly imprecise because there are frequent moves. In this way, the register-based census is intended to deliver reliable results, even though not all German citizens are questioned.

Who conducts the census?

The Federal Statistical Office and the statistical offices of the federal states are responsible for the census. You prepare the survey, coordinate the implementation and keep an eye on the quality standards. The Federal Statistical Office is responsible for receiving, processing and storing the data.

The offices of the federal states are responsible for the surveys in their respective federal state. They collect the data for the census of buildings and apartments and ensure that survey offices are set up in all municipalities. These, in turn, recruit survey officers and coordinate the survey of the people on site.

Who is interviewed in the census?

A good ten percent of Germans – that’s around 10.3 million randomly selected people – are asked about their name, gender, marital status and nationality, among other things.

How does the survey work and what is asked?

Around 100,000 survey officers will be deployed nationwide. At a previously announced date, the respective interviewer comes to the previously randomly selected people. Then questions are asked about the people in the household – such as names, gender and marital status. The whole thing takes five to ten minutes. This is to determine the population.

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

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

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

There are no personal interviews in the census of buildings and apartments. The owners and administrations of living space will receive a letter with online access data on the key date. There they answer questions about the size of the apartment, the year it was built, possible vacancies and why, the net cold rent, the type of heating and the energy source of the residential property. The results should serve as a data basis for tackling problems such as the housing shortage or energy-related renovation.

In addition, the building and apartment census asks for the surname and first name of two tenants. In this way, people are assigned to their residential households. This can be used to derive how many square meters of living space a person or a large family has on average.

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


This is what the sample personal questionnaires for the household survey in the 2022 census look like.
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Image: dpa

What about data protection in the census?

The Federal Statistical Office emphasizes that data protection requirements from the Federal Statistics Act and the General Data Protection Regulation have the highest priority. All employees of the statistical offices and all survey officers are subject to the statutory duty of confidentiality. Accordingly, data will not be passed on to authorities outside of official statistics and will only be evaluated anonymously. The personal data should be deleted as soon as possible. Only summarized results will be published later, which do not allow any conclusions to be drawn about individual persons, households or buildings.

What is the difference between census and microcensus?

The term microcensus means “small census”. This is an annual statistical survey in which one percent of households are surveyed each year. The microcensus took place for the first time in 1957. In comparison to the census, the microcensus asks more detailed questions, such as on individual occupational groups and family structures. The aim of the microcensus is to collect data on the economic and social situation of the population in Germany.

In contrast to the census, the microcensus provides more precise information about important changes in the economy and society. In these short time intervals, the changes in the data can be determined more quickly and the data gaps between the large censuses can be filled.

How often does the census take place?

The European Union obliges its member states to carry out a census every ten years. According to schedule, this would have been the case in Germany in 2021, but the census was postponed to 2022 due to the corona pandemic.

How can I distinguish official surveyors from criminals?

Unfortunately, criminals also use the census surveys for their machinations and pretend to be survey officers. You should therefore make sure that the interviewers have announced their presence in writing about a week before the survey. In addition, survey officers have a corresponding ID card with them. They also do not have to be allowed into the apartment. The survey can also take place at or in front of the door.

When asked about income, religion, bank information, ID documents, passwords, signatures or vaccination status, respondents should be suspicious because no data may be collected on this. If you have any doubts, you should contact the police or the responsible state office for statistics.

You can see what the official questionnaires look like on the census website at census2022.de look at.

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