Studies in Methods (Ser. F)

2412-0332 (online)
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Studies in Methods (Series F) is the title of a book series produced by the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), which is part of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). This series includes various titles that deal with the development and compiling of various statistical indicators, as well as best practices for the conducting of surveys and censuses.
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Measuring the Economically Active in Population Censuses

Measuring the Economically Active in Population Censuses

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18 Dec 2013
9789210547376 (PDF)

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The Handbook provides guidance on the measurement of economic characteristics in population censuses, based on relevant experiences of countries, with a particular focus on the questions used and the requirements for processing of responses. The Handbook is intended to provide census planners with a variety of approaches to assess the questions and methods of collecting economic characteristics used in their national census, as they evaluate the performance in the past decade and plan for the 2010 round of censuses (2005-2014). Users of census results may also find the present text useful when evaluating the quality of census results.
Also available in French, Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Spanish
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  • Preface
    The United Nations, as part of its world programme on population and housing censuses, has provided technical guidelines to its Member States primarily through the preparation of (a) Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses; (b) handbooks on general census operations and on the collection of data on specific topics, such as economic activity; and (c) supporting technical materials.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts General issues

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    • Focus and content—rationale and structure
      For decades, countries have been collecting, through population censuses, data on economic characteristics of the population. For many countries the population census remains the only source for nationally representative statistics on economic characteristics, while for others the population census complements other sources (if available) such as household and labour force surveys, establishment surveys, and administrative registers. As the census is conducted only once every 10 years (in a few countries once in every 5 years), economic characteristics are often competing with demands for coverage of a wide range of other topics.
    • Planning and design of population censuses for the collection of data on economic characteristics
      Population censuses can generate statistics on economic activity that meet the needs of many users (see para. 5). Social and demographic information on the population engaged in the production of goods and services is vital to the analysis of the economic performance of a country as well as of the regions of which it is composed. One of the main strengths of the population census as a source of data is the provision of localityspecific statistics. As a first step to including questions on economic characteristics in a census questionnaire, census authorities and potential users of census results need to work together to develop lists of the actual and anticipated uses of census statistics in their own country. Such lists will be helpful in planning census content and types of outputs, and in mobilizing support for the census.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Measurement of economic characteristics in a population census

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    • Measurement frameworks
      The single most important issue in obtaining reliable information on economic topics in a population census is to accurately determine the activity status of the population: who is economically active and who is not? Statistics on the size and composition of the two groups are fundamental to formulating almost all economic and social policies and related planning and research. Moreover, most economic characteristics in the census are obtained only for the economically active; therefore the item(s) used to identify activity status are the key to the whole block of economic items. Omissions and misclassifications of persons can have a major impact on a broad range of census data pertaining to the socio-economic situation of the population.
    • Currently economically active population (labour force)
      The labour force comprises all persons who, during the reference period, were either employed or unemployed as described below. Figure II illustrates the relationship between the total census population (the total population net of any groups excluded from the scope of the census, such as foreign diplomats), the labour force, the employed population, the unemployed population and the population not in the labour force. Thus the questions in the census questionnaire for determining the labour force should be directed at identifying those categories in a way that is clear, unambiguous and mutually exclusive.
    • Usual economic activity status
      Statistics on economic activity over a 12-month period, rather than in respect of a recent short period as described in chapter IV, are important to users who have an interest in a summary picture of activity covering all seasons. Such data are used in economic and manpower planning and can be particularly valuable as a basis for national accounting estimates. They are less dependent on the timing of the census date (see chap. II, sect. C) and fit in with other statistics determined on an annual basis, such as household income, or statistics reflecting the normal situation for household members, such as enrolment in school.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Measurement of characteristics of jobs, establishments and persons

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    • Descriptive characteristics for the main job
      Once the currently economically active persons have been identified, the remaining economic topics refer only to that subset of the total in-scope census population. Two major issues must be decided: which job or jobs associated with the person should be the focus of the questions, and whether to put those questions to only the currently employed or to both the currently employed and the unemployed. The relevant characteristics of a job include status in employment, occupation, and place of work.
    • Descriptive characteristics of the establishment
      It is essential that once the main or reference job is identified, all characteristics should refer to that same main job throughout the questions that follow. The questionnaire design must be such that it will not confuse respondents or interviewers on that point. When any secondary activities are supposed to be recorded they must be clearly identified separately and placed so as not to confuse the flow of questions relating to the main job. The task is not usually difficult with current activity (see examples below) but can be quite difficult with usual activity.
    • Working time and income
      In general, the measurement of working time and of income from employment should relate to the total hours or income over all jobs. However, often those characteristics are measured only for the main or “reference” job. Once the main job is identified, it is essential that all characteristics refer to the same main job. Questionnaire design must be such as not to confuse respondents or interviewers on that point. When any secondary activities are identified they must be clearly separated and placed so as not to confuse the flow of questions relating to the main job. Doing so is not usually difficult with current activity (see examples) but can be difficult with usual activity.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Coding of occupation and industry

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    • Preparations for coding occupation and industry
      Chapter X explores the various strategies and preparations that are necessary to ensure effective and reliable coding of industry and occupation responses, and also considers the costs and advantages of the different alternatives. It outlines the objectives and main strategic choices to be made and presents the main organizational factors determining the effectiveness and success of the coding and processing tasks. The chapter describes the development of the major tools, the coding indices and how to use them effectively.
    • The development and use of coding indices
      The present chapter is based mainly on experience from English-speaking industrialized countries, as the limited documentation readily available on the development and use of coding indices and coding procedures has originated mainly in such countries. It is difficult to assess the extent to which the documented experience is transferable to other languages and cultures. While that caveat should be kept in mind when reading the following text, the experience from those English-speaking countries may provide a good starting point for work and experiments in other languages.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Using population censuses to improve labour force and related statistics

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    • Types of data collection on the labour force and other economic characteristics
      The previous parts of the Handbook have reviewed the ways in which a population census may collect information on the labour force and other economic characteristics, either through complete coverage or from a sample. As indicated, other sources of such information for national level statistics also exist, in particular household surveys, establishment surveys, economic and agricultural censuses and administrative sources. Part six is concerned with the ways in which the results from the population census may be used to develop, evaluate, improve and better utilize those other sources, specifically labour force and other household and establishment sample surveys. An important underlying issue is how the population census design and procedures may be chosen so as to maximize its usefulness for this purpose.
    • Labour force survey structure and arrangements
      To appreciate the relationship between the population census and sample surveys of households on economic characteristics of the population, and how the census may be designed and used to aid the latter, it is useful to describe the main features of the structure and arrangements of labour force surveys. That is the objective of chapter XIII.
    • Sampling and related uses of census information
      In most countries today the decennial census of population is the primary source of geographically detailed information on the basic demographic, economic and related characteristics of the population. Many official statisticians agree that a population census need not gather all demographic and housing information on a 100 per cent basis. The issue of the use of sampling in conjunction with the population census is pertinent in the context of the development of a system of labour force surveys. The labour force survey is often the largest and most important population-based survey undertaken regularly in many countries.
    • The population census as a frame for household-based censuses and surveys of agricultural and small-scale economic units
      One of the main uses of the population census for sample surveys is to provide sampling frames for different types of surveys following the census. That application is widely recognized in the case of labour force and other household or population-based surveys. However, it is less commonly appreciated that it applies equally to economic surveys, in particular of small-scale establishments, in both the agricultural and nonagricultural sectors. Indeed, that is also true of what are often referred to as agricultural and economic censuses. Outside the population field the term “census” or “sample census” is commonly used to refer to operations that are not in fact a complete enumeration of all units in the study population but include a probability sample. For example, most agricultural censuses are conducted on a sample basis, albeit often on a large scale. Similarly, although censuses of economic establishments cover large and medium-sized units on a 100 per cent basis, it is often reasonable as well as practically unavoidable for them to cover the numerous small establishments only on a sample basis.
    • Use of census data in the production of survey estimates
      Several requirements need to be taken into account when population census data are used in the production of estimates from sample surveys, including the following
    • The census as a basis for evaluating survey data
      Another potential use of census data is to serve as a benchmark for the evaluation of results from post-censal sample surveys. Owing to differences of timing, content, methodology, practical conditions of data collection and so on, the comparability between the two types of sources are limited, and hence a past census cannot fully serve as a benchmark for more current sample surveys. If different classifications and definitions of concepts are used, then comparability of information between censuses and surveys and the capacity to use census data to evaluate survey data will be limited. Nevertheless, the population census can be useful in a number of ways for the above purpose. The questions to be addressed are whether and to what extent data on economic characteristics and activity of the population from the labour force and other sample surveys can be evaluated on the basis of information from the population census and projections. It is useful to distinguish between content and coverage aspects of the evaluation.
    • Combined uses of census and survey data: Current estimates for small domains, including local level estimates
      The census can provide geographically detailed but infrequent and not very current statistics, while statistics based on sample surveys can be more frequent and up-to-date but lack geographical and other small domain details owing to sample size constraints. Sample survey results are widely used to derive reliable estimates for totals and means for large areas and domains. However, despite great developments in survey capability and practice, the usual direct survey estimators for a small domain, based only on observations of sampled units in the domain, are likely to yield unacceptably large sampling errors owing to the limited sample sizes involved.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Annexes

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    • Examples of complete sets of economic activity questions in population censuses
      The website of the United Nations Statistics Division shows copies of population census questionnaires where they have been provided by countries and territories. It is difficult to find census questionnaires in which the economic activity questions cover all the topics included in Principles and Recommendation for Population and Housing Censuses, Revision 2 (United Nations, 2008b). The incomplete coverage of topics arises in part from other competing demands for space on the census questionnaire. Another reason is that some of the topics (and changes in conceptual boundaries) have been added since the 2000 census round and thus few countries have had a chance to even consider adopting them. A few reasonably comprehensive examples of the economic block of questions are presented in annex I to show how they have been structured.
    • List of tabulations (recommended and additional) relating to economic characteristics
      All the tabulations listed below are also produced at the lowest level of geographical detail and with urban and rural classification. Outlines for the basic tabulations are shown in Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses, Revision 2.
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