Though most people find participation annoying, the census is a vital source of information that has immense implications. A simple population count can determine important issues, such as whether to increase or decrease funding for public services, influence municipal and electoral district reforms and predict population movement trends for the next decade and beyond. However, the modern census has evolved beyond a simple head count into a collection of a wide array of information about the population.
Estonia went through its first census since the restoration of independence earlier this spring, from 31 March to 9 April. During those ten days, teams of census takers hit the streets to collect information about the population. Census questions were sent to all residents, so, in theory, nothing should have been a surprise. Very often, census takers even called ahead to set up an appointment time.
The last time a census was carried out on Estonian territory was in 1989 under the Soviet regime; the last time Estonia organised its own census was 1934. To this day, those two censuses remain important sources of data - especially for demonstrating the shift in ethnic balance before and after the Soviet invasion. For example, 88 per cent of the population (993,000) was ethnic Estonian in the census of 1934, compared to 61 per cent (963,000) in the census of 1989; while eight per cent of the population (93,000) was ethnic Russian in 1934, compared to 30 per cent (475,000) in 1989.
The current census is in two parts. One part deals with questions for individual residents, while the other concerns their dwellings. The personal section contains 31 questions, though some are limited to adults [* denotes questions only for those over 15 years of age] and others are not mandatory [** denotes optional questions]. Some statisticians complained that, in a rare opportunity like this, more questions should have been included in the census. However, officials were worried about invading privacy and the burdens caused by additional questions.
The following are the census questions in translation:
- First name
- Birth date
- Personal ID number
- Main place of residence
- Where were you staying on 31 March of this year? (at midnight, 31 March)
- What is your citizenship?
- Where was your main place of residence on 12 January 1989? (during the last census)
- Place of birth (mother's place of residence when you were born)
- Birthplace of your parents (country of birth of your mother and father)
- What is your nationality?
- What is your mother language?
- What languages do you know?**
- What is your legal status? (never been married, married, divorced)*
- To how many children have you given birth? *
- When was your first child born? (the child's birth year) [questions 16 and 17 for women 15 years of age or older]
- Do you have a long-term disease diagnosed by a doctor or a problem that has continued/is continuing for a year or more? If yes, do you need daily care or assistance to leave your home because of it?
- What were your main sources of subsistence in the last 12 months? (wages, pension, stipend, etc.)
- Are you currently studying at an institution of general, special or higher education? [question for individuals three years of age or older]
- What is the highest level of vocational or speciality training you have completed?
- What level of education have you attained? (secondary education, primary education, pre-schooling) [questions 21 and 22 for individuals ten years of age or older]
The following questions are for those 15 years of age or older:
- What is your religious belief?
- Did you take at least one hour off work the week before the census? (was it due to illness, holiday, or other reasons)
- If you are not working, then to which one of the following groups do you belong: military conscript; not working but actively searching; ready to work; student; pensioner; homemaker; other?
- What is the name of your principle workplace or main employer?
- What is the main field of activity of your workplace/employer?
- What is the address of your principle workplace?
- What is your employment status at work? (contract employee, freelance, etc)
- What is your job at the workplace/what does your work consist of?
- How many hours do you usually work a week?
In addition, the head of the household is also asked to give the following information about the family's dwelling as of 31 March 2000:
- Dwelling type and when it became occupied.
- Who is the owner of the dwelling?
- Are members of your household the owners, members of a housing co-op, renters or others?
- What is the floor area of the dwelling?
- How many rooms are in the dwelling?
- Does the dwelling have a kitchen?
- Does the dwelling have running water, a sewerage system, hot water, bath (shower), sauna, WC, electricity, gas, central heating, electric heating?
- Building type and construction date.
- Does your household use its land for gardening or cultivation, is it grass, forest or agricultural land?
The early results surprised some people, as they confirmed that the Estonian population is indeed dropping - and quite rapidly, at that. Early results show that on the territory of Estonia, there are about 1.4 million residents. Compared to the 1,565,662 from the 1989 census, which is a significant drop percentage-wise. Both natural population decrease (deaths outnumbering births) and emigration (large numbers to Russia and also to Western countries) have been cited as causes.
The second part of the census also showed that there is quite a large number of unoccupied dwellings. This comes in the face of the government's pursuit of a plan introduced by President Lennart Meri to encourage the development of housing for young families, which will now likely be forced to undergo some reconsideration.
Though the event was a rather insignificant one for the average Estonian, the implications of this census (or any census, for that matter) will affect every person in the country for many years to come. The results will play a vital role in the government campaign for regional administrative reform and consolidation - especially of rural schools and hospitals - perhaps giving the controversial policy the fuel it needs.
Mel Huang, 19 May 2000
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