What to Know as the 2020 Census Gets Underway

Filed Under: Best Practices, Market Research, Generations, Youth & Family


A lot has changed in 10 years.  In 2010…

  • The first iPad was introduced, and we were only on iPhone 4
  • Instagram had just been created; Facebook still dominated
  • The Saints won their first Super Bowl
  • The Affordable Care Act was signed into law

And, there hasn’t been another census since then. Maybe not a big deal to everyone, but in an industry where we rely on knowing the population, the census is important!

When C+R designs sample plans, one critical aspect is what we call “click balancing” – this means that we ensure that those who start our surveys are representative demographically based on several measures. While we can rely on the Current Population Survey (CPS), which is conducted every month, the census conducted every decade includes everyone (versus a subset of the population), though it doesn’t include quite as many questions.

What are the differences?

  • CPS: Subset of the population; Census: every U.S. resident
  • Both include basic demographic questions; CPS also includes monthly “supplements” to over a wide variety of topics – volunteerism, health insurance coverage, school enrollment, etc.

What to know about the 2020 Census:

  • No “long-form” version: Similar to 2010, there is no longer a “long-form” version of the census questionnaire. Rather than what’s happened in the past, from 1970-2000, that a subset of people received a longer questionnaire to complete, the Census Bureau now conducts supplemental surveys to ask some of the more detailed questions. Specifically, it uses the American Community Survey (ACS), which is conducted every year.
  • You can complete it online: The 2020 Census will be easier to complete than in the past – everyone will receive an invitation to participate with options to complete online (new!), by phone, or by mail. If you don’t respond, you’ll receive a paper questionnaire and/or a visit from a census worker (should things go back to “normal” after the COVID-19 Pandemic).
  • Questions asked: Own vs. rent residence, gender, age, race, ethnic group, the relationship of household members. Most of these questions have been part of the questionnaire for many years.

One measure that received a lot of attention before the 2020 questions being finalized was citizenship, with some claiming it’s been a question on the census since 1820. However, if you look at the list of questionnaires (going back to 1790!), that’s not exactly the case. In fact, the last time it was part of the census questionnaire was 1950; it was taken out in 1960, and then added to the “long-form” version in 1970. Ultimately, the decision was made not to include a citizenship question in the 2020 Census.  

While the numbers we currently use from the Current Population Survey may not differ that much from what we see in the census, it’s likely that the results of the census (slated to be released in March of 2021) –will make some headlines. We’re excited to see the results (will there be a new cohort of interest to marketers that emerges?), the implications and also where we can leverage our expertise – whether it’s youth and family, generations, Hispanic or multicultural.  

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