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How census data are used


Users of census data come from a variety of backgrounds and organizations, ranging from individuals to large corporations. The data are used by all levels of government, the private sector, and social and community groups.

Census information may be used in program planning and development. For example, the federal government uses it to help calculate financial grants to provinces and territories. Businesses use it to assess demand and help market their products. The academic community and the media use census information to stay abreast of topics of current interest and identify trends in Canadian society. Some of the major users of census data are as follows:

  • federal government
  • provincial and territorial governments
  • municipal governments
  • libraries
  • educational institutions
  • researchers and academics
  • private industry
  • business associations
  • labour organizations
  • farm organizations
  • ethnic and cultural groups
  • private citizens
  • public interest groups.

Applications of census data

The following are a few examples to illustrate the many possible uses of census data.


The Census of Agriculture has been measuring livestock, farm receipts and the area of land in crops since its inception. (The first separate Census of Agriculture was taken in Manitoba in 1896.) The 2006 Census of Agriculture also asked questions about computer use, organic production, farm injuries, land management practices, poultry hatched in commercial hatcheries, farm machinery and equipment, and paid farm work as well as other farm-related questions. This type of information provides quantitative data to help farm organizations monitor trends in farming. It is also used by the farming industry and the various levels of government to plan and administer farm programs.


The census measures the number of women in the labour force, as well as their occupation, income, education and marital status. This information is used to develop employment and training programs, and it provides researchers with the data they need to analyze the expanding role of women in the Canadian economy.


The disability questions ask about difficulty in daily activities, type and number of activity reduction at home, at work or school, and in other activities. These filter questions are used to provide the sampling frame for the postcensal Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS). The information from PALS is used by all levels of government to evaluate and implement programs and services to eliminate the barriers that persons with disabilities face.

Special employment programs

Managers of programs to help visible minorities and the disabled join the workforce and get better jobs rely on the census for information about the job market and the people they are trying to help.

Health care

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Planners employ census data to forecast health care needs and costs, choose sites for new hospitals and clinics, and measure the need for medical research programs.

Representation in Parliament

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The boundaries and number of federal electoral districts (ridings) in each province and territory are determined with the aid of census data collected in censuses ending in '1', for example, 1991, 2001, 2011.


Federal transfer payments, in the order of billions of dollars made to the provinces and territories, use population estimates, which are based on census counts and results from postcensal coverage studies.

Municipal and local governments

Some provincial and territorial governments use census data to determine how much money they should allocate to municipalities. These local governments use the same data to assess the need for community programs and services. Local governments analyze census data before deciding where to locate parks, bus routes, and day care or after-school care programs.

Business and industry

Businesses use census data to develop employment plans, select new retail or manufacturing sites, and analyse markets for their products and services.

Labour markets

The census provides information about the number, geographic distribution, and skills of Canadian workers. It also measures their characteristics—age, sex, marital status, education, income, ethnic origin, and disabilities—which are used to develop a profile of Canada's labour market. The commuting distance, which refers to the distance, in kilometres, between the respondent's residence and his or her usual place of work, can also be determined based on data collected by the census.

News media

The census provides the background information the media need to report on the economic, social, cultural, and other activities of Canadian society. The news media also use census information to market their services. Census data are used to determine circulation areas, develop advertising, design market surveys, and evaluate advertising campaigns.


Young school children run for the bus on an autumn morning.

School boards use population figures, listed by age groups and mother tongue, to project school enrolments and determine the need for new schools. The data are also used to develop special programs such as minority group language instruction.

Law enforcement agencies

Many communities depend on census data to calculate the number of workers they will need to serve and protect their citizens.

Social service agencies

Information from the census provides the framework necessary to develop programs such as day care, subsidized housing, and services for disabled persons.

Aboriginal peoples

Governments, agencies, and Aboriginal peoples' organizations need information on the socio-economic conditions of Aboriginal peoples in Canada to manage different programs and services.

How census data helps users

To give you a better idea of how census data could be used in various kinds of businesses, here are a few examples of inquiries received by Statistics Canada consultants.

Example 1: News media

A journalist writing a story wants a breakdown of population by ethnic origin for the Montréal, Ottawa - Gatineau  and Vancouver census metropolitan areas (CMAs).

Using census data, the journalist was able to find out not only the number of people belonging to various ethnic groups in the three CMAs, but also the distribution of population by other variables such as age, sex, marital status, education, income, mother tongue, and home language.

Example 2: Marketing

A daily newspaper has determined that its typical reader has above-average education and an annual income of $70,000 or more. The company wants to know where to find people who fit this profile so that it can focus its marketing efforts on them.

Since census data are available for small areas, the newspaper was able to use education and income data to determine in which neighbourhoods people fitting the profile live.

Example 3: Market sectors

An entrepreneur wants to know how many dwellings in the Calgary CMA need repairs.

The census provided the entrepreneur with information about housing repair needs, as well as other valuable business information, such as period of construction, type of dwelling, number of rooms and bedrooms, tenure, costs of shelter, and value of dwelling, for each census tract in the Calgary CMA.

Example 4: Actuarial analysis

An actuary working on a workers' compensation case needed to know the employment income of crane operators in the marine industry in a particular region. He wanted to exclude seasonal fluctuations and regional and occupational variations affecting his client's occupation.

The census was able to supply data on the employment income of persons who had the same occupation and characteristics as his client and lived in the geographic area of interest.

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