Answered By: Chris Pollette
Last Updated: Feb 19, 2015     Views: 115

The U.S. Bureau of the Census has been surveying the population every ten years since 1790, and producing statistical reports summarizing the findings.

Woodruff Library has print copies of the statistical reports compiled from each of the U.S. decennial censuses starting with 1790.  There is also SELECTED statistical data available online.

If you are looking for the Census rolls -- the actual raw data -- you can try the database Ancestry Library Edition (Emory authorized users only, and ONLY on campus), or go to the National Archives and Records branch in Morrow, GA. Woodruff also owns selected census rolls in microfilm.

In addition to the Census rolls, you can also access samples of the microdata that were used by the Census Bureau to produce the summary reports. The best place to look here is the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) project at the University of Minnesota’s Minnesota Population Center, which has samples of microdata for most iterations of the Census since 1850 (as well as microdata for other Census surveys such as the Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey). The Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan also distributes microdata files for various Census years. The Census Bureau also makes some microdata files available for download or purchase.

Microdata files are particularly useful if you want tabulations other than those produced by the Census itself. Note, however, that these files are generally very large and are designed for use in statistical software programs such as SAS, SPSS, or Stata. They are not usable in a spreadsheet program such as Excel. Alternately, you can produce tabulations of your own via the DataFerrett, which is a downloadable tool produced by the Census for working with microdata files for the Census of Population and Housing, the Current Population Survey, and other resources.

Other useful sources for data/statistics from the Census of Population and Housing:

  • Social Explorer is an online research tool designed to provide quick and easy access to current and historical census data and demographic information. Its contents include the entire US Census from 1790 to 2010, annual updates from the American Community Survey, data on religious congregations for the United States for 2009 (including maps for counties, and special census areas, as well as point maps of the actual congregation locations), decennial religious congregation data for 1980-2010, and carbon emissions data for 2002. Users can create reports and maps at various levels of geography, including counties, Census tracts, Census block groups, and zip codes, depending on data availability.

  • Historical Census Browser - The University of Virgina’s Geostat Center has compiled county-level data from the U.S. Census from 1790 to 1960 and made that data available via a very-user friendly web interface.
  • Neighborhood Change Database (NCDB) - The NCDB is available on CD-ROM in the Electronic Data Center in 217 Woodruff Library. It contains tract-level data and statistics from the 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2000 iterations of the Census.

Please keep in mind that the Census of Population and Housing is conducted only once every ten years. This schedule was written into the Constitution of the United States (Article I, Section 2), so it is not open to debate or revision (at least, not in the short term). Consequently, the most detailed information on population and housing topics that the Census Bureau produces is generally only available in ten-year increments. The Census does produce annual reports on topics such as population demographics, but such reports are usually less detailed that what is contained in the Census of Population and Housing, especially when you get below the national level. Having said that, there are some very useful resources for population and housing data and statistics for non-Census years:

  • American Community Survey (ACS) - The American Community Survey is an annual survey that the Census has conducted since the late 1990’s and is meant to replace the “long-form” Census of Population and Housing starting in 2010. The ACS site contains links to reports and tables summarizing results from the ACS as well as links to ACS microdata. You can also create tables from ACS data via the American FactFinder.
  • American Housing Survey (AHS) - The American Housing Survey is conducted by the Census Bureau for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) so that the latter can have up-to-date data and statistics on topics such as family composition, income, housing and neighborhood quality, and housing costs. Summary reports and tables and microdata files are available from the Census Bureau’s AHS site and also from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s AHS site.
  • CDC Wonder Population Information - CDC Wonder has a very nice site for producing tables of annual population estimates for different demographic groups and geographies that were produced by the Census Bureau and by the National Center for Health Statistics. The Census population estimates are for 1970 through 2000, while the NCHS estimates are for 1990 onwards.
  • Current Population Reports - The Census Bureau produces various annual and biennial population reports from the Current Population Survey. These reports cover topics such as educational attainment, school enrollment, and living arrangements.
  • Population Estimates Program - The Census Bureau’s Population Estimates Program produces annual estimates of population counts for different demographic categories (age, race, sex, and Hispanic origin) at different levels of geography (e.g. national, states, counties).

You also might find useful information for non-Census years by looking through the Census Bureau’s “Subjects Index.”

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