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Appendix B The history of sampling in the Canadian censuses

Sampling was first used in the Canadian census in 1941. A housing schedule was completed for every tenth dwelling. The information from 27 questions on the separate housing schedule was integrated with the data in the personal and household section of the population schedule for the same dwelling, thus allowing cross-tabulation of sample and basic characteristics. Also in the 1941 Census, sampling was used at the processing stage to obtain early estimates of earnings of wage-earners, of the distribution of the population of working age, and of the composition of families in Canada. In this case, a sample of every tenth enumeration area across Canada was selected and all population schedules in these areas were processed in advance.

Again in 1951, the census of housing was conducted on a sample basis. This time, every fifth dwelling (those whose identification numbers ended in a 2 or 7) was selected to complete a housing document containing 24 questions. In the 1961 Census, persons aged 15 years and over in a 20% sample of private households were required to complete a population sample questionnaire containing questions on internal migration, fertility and income. Sampling was not used in the smaller censuses of 1956 and 1966.

The 1971 Census saw several major innovations in the method of census-taking. The primary change was from the traditional canvasser method of enumeration to the use of self-enumeration for the majority of the population. This change was prompted by the results of several studies in Canada and elsewhere (Fellegi, 1964; Hansen et al, 1959) that indicated that the effect of the enumerator was a major contribution to the variance of census figures in a canvasser census. Thus the use of self-enumeration was expected to reduce the variance of census figures through reducing the effect of the enumerator, while at the same time giving the respondent more time and privacy in which to answer the census questions—factors which might also be expected to yield more accurate responses.

The second aspect of the 1971 Census that differentiated it from any earlier census was its content. The number of topics covered and the number of questions asked were greater than in any previous census. Considerations of cost, respondent burden, and timeliness versus the level of data quality to be expected using self-enumeration and sampling led to a decision to collect all but certain basic characteristics on a one-third sample basis in the 1971 Census. In all but the more remote areas of Canada, every third private household received the 'long questionnaire' which contained all the census questions, while the remaining private households received the 'short questionnaire' containing only the basic questions covering name, relationship to head of household, sex, date of birth, marital status, mother tongue, type of dwelling, tenure, number of rooms, water supply, toilet facilities, and certain census coverage items. All households in pre-identified remote enumeration areas and all collective dwellings received the long questionnaire. A more detailed description of the consideration of the use of sampling in the 1971 Census is given in Sampling in the Census (Dominion Bureau of Statistics, 1968).

The content of the 1976 Census was considerably less than that of the 1971 Census. Furthermore, the 1976 questionnaire did not include the questions that cause the most difficulty in collection (e.g., income) or that are costly to code (e.g., occupation, industry, and place of work). Therefore, the benefits of sampling in terms of cost savings and reduced respondent burden were less clear than for the 1971 Census. Nevertheless, after estimating the potential cost savings to be expected with various sampling fractions, and considering the public relations issues related to a reversion to 100% enumeration after a successful application of sampling in 1971, it was decided to use the same sampling procedure in 1976 as in 1971.

Most of the methodology used in the 1971 and 1976 censuses was kept for the 1981 Census, except that the sampling rate was reduced from every third occupied private household to every fifth. Studies done at the time showed that the resulting reduction in data quality (measured in terms of variance) would be tolerable, and would not be significant enough to offset the benefits of reduced cost, response burden, and improved timeliness (see Royce, 1983). The one-in-five sampling rate had been maintained for every census from 1981 to 2006.

Information previously collected by the mandatory long-form census questionnaire was collected as part of the National Household Survey in 2011. With this change, every household was required to answer the ten questions that were contained in the census questionnaire.

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