Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

A census is a social survey of the total population of a given area that collects basic social data about the members of that population.

explanatory context

The United Kingdom Census is a government survey required by law to cover all the inhabitants of the United Kingdom every ten years.


Census is also used to refer to any social study that seeks to collect data from all the entire group of specified subjects (the population) such as a census of all blind people in Birmingham.

analytical review

The United Kingdom National Archives website (undated) explains the UK census as follows:

The Census is a count of all the people in the United Kingdom on one particular day and is normally taken every ten years. It provides wonderful information of what life was like on the day that the information was collected. As a result, Census information is brilliant for helping us to explore the past.
The first modern Census was taken in 1801 and there has been one every ten years since, apart from 1941 when British involvement in the Second World War stopped it taking place.
Since Census information has started to be collected, not everyone has been happy about providing his or her details. Census enumerators often had difficulties in collecting the forms and, as late as the 1950s, it was believed that some people were giving wrong information on the forms. To encourage people to provide the correct details, the government has always guaranteed that any personal information will not be made available to the public for 100 years. This means that the only Census returns that can be seen at the moment are those for 1841 to 1891. The 1901 Census is to be released in 2002 and will be available on the Internet.
Between 1801 and 1831 the Census contains only general information relating to the population but from 1841 more details started to be kept. After this date, information on each person living in a household was recorded. Since each household in the country was asked the same questions, it allows comparisons between different areas to be made. This means that the Census is a very useful source of information for historians.


Carleton University states:

Census: A gathering of information on all members of a population.


Richard Schaefer (2017):

Census: An enumeration, or counting, of a population.

associated issues


related areas

See also



Carleton University, Glossary, undated, available at, not available 20 December 2016.

National Archives [UK] undated, Focus on... the Census available at , accessed 1 February 2013, still available 23 November 2019.

Schaefer, R. T., 2017, 'Glossary' in Sociology: A brief introduction, Fourth Edition, originally c. 2000, McGraw-Hill. Available at, site dated 2017, accessed 11 June 2017. Page not found 1 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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