Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Census (Latin census; cf. censeo, I estimate), in ancient Rome a registration of the heads of families with their landed property, intended to serve as a basis for taxation and the assignment of various degrees of political power. The first census was that of Servius Tullius. The list was revised at stated periods by the censors (q.v.). Under the later Roman Republic and the Empire the census was a record of the population of a province with their landed or other property, intended to furnish data for fixing the tribute to be paid by the province (cf. Luke ii. 1-3).

Between the fall of the Roman empire and the end of the last century there was no general enumeration of the people of any European country. The desirability of it, from the economic point of view, was hardly seen, and had it been seen, religious scruples, due to the punishment of David for numbering Israel (2 Sam. xxiv.), would doubtless have interfered. There were, however, occasional partial enumerations of the populations of certain districts under the despotic governments of the Continent. The first census, in the modern sense, in Great Britain, was taken in 1801, and it has been repeated ever since at intervals of ten years. The first census of Ireland was taken in 1811, but was very inaccurate, as was also that of 1821. The establishment of a uniform registration of births, deaths, and marriages, in Great Britain in 1837, and the creation of the Royal Irish constabulary, provided better means of correct enumeration. Information on agriculture was first collected in Ireland in 1841. A religious census is taken in Ireland, and was carried out in Great Britain in 1857, but the objections of the Nonconformists, based on the fear that almost all persons whose creed was doubtful would be ranked as members of the National Church, have prevented its repetition in Great Britain. At every census additional particulars have been taken. At the 1891 census of the United Kingdom a return was required from residents in Wales and Scotland, of the language habitually spoken by them; and with a view to estimate the degree of overcrowding among the working classes a return was also taken of the number of rooms occupied by families occupying less than five. In 1891 also, in the return of occupations, a distinction was made, for the first time, between employers, employed, and persons working on their own account.

The first census of the British Empire was taken in 1871, when the population was found to be 234,762,593.

In the United States a census has been taken every ten years from 1790, and an intermediate census is taken every five years. The particulars noted are very minute and various, and relate to agriculture, mining, and various branches of industry, as well as to the population. Some offence was caused at the 1890 census by a query addressed to the landowners as to the mortgages (if any) on their property. There is reason to believe, unfortunately, in some of the more backward states the enumeration has at times been very defective, and the appearance of a large increase in the negro population between 1870,and 1880 is now attributed to the defective enumeration of the former year.

On the Continent of Europe censuses are usually taken at intervals of ten years. The last census of France was taken in 1891, that of Germany in December, 1890.