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Why census 2022 needs to know if you have a vacuum or DVD player

Stats SA field workers conducting Census 2022 registrations. Picture:Bongani Mbatha/African News Agency(ANA)

Stats SA field workers conducting Census 2022 registrations. Picture:Bongani Mbatha/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Mar 13, 2022

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In case you’re wondering why Statistics South Africa – the people who are currently going door to door wearing green bibs labelled Census 2022 – want to know if you own a vacuum cleaner or DVD player, statisticians say that information is useful and relevant.

Chairperson of UWC’s statistics and population studies department Professor Nancy Stiegler explained, “It is very important for the demographic and socio-economic analysis to understand, for instance, that single mother households do not own certain amenities, it gives precious information on households and provides the government with a wealth/poverty index.”

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The census used to be conducted every five years in South Africa but according to Stats SA, now gets conducted every 10 years following international standards. South Africa completes a community survey every five years. But these surveys, however, make use of a sample of residents compared to a census, underway, that aims to include everyone. The last census took place in 2011, which posed the question whether some of the questions were dated, and still of relevance. But Stiegler said the questions were in line with census basic standards and international practices.

“The issue of asking who the head of household is might indeed sound outdated because of the appellation, but this concept is more a demographic concept, as we need to have a reference person in each household to recreate families and household structure.”

She added: “The census also provides information on how to develop the best population policies and programmes according to the profile of households and spatial distribution of these households.”

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Stellenbosch University economics Professor Dieter von Fintel said the questions were highly relevant, as they make it possible to compare socio-economic status or asset poverty across individuals and regions, over time.

“Knowing that people do not have a vacuum cleaner also tells us something about their poverty relative to those who do have these items. The questions are therefore also relevant in informal settlements and child households,” he said.

He added: “The list of items have been used and tested in multiple settings and have enabled extensive analysis of poverty and inequality.”

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Von Fintel said questions were kept similar over time to ensure that data from various censuses remain comparable over time. “There is a trade-off between keeping pace with changes in society and collecting data that can be used meaningfully over long periods,” he said.

Stats SA Western Province’s census chief director Patrick Kelly said this year’s census had been challenging as it was the first time that digital tools were being used.

“The uptake of technology is partially driven by the need to minimise human contact and reduce paper. This is why field workers have tablets and people can complete their surveys online.”

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He added: “The census needs to be done in a short period so there is no option to rework or change things midway.”

Kelly said one of the bigger challenges faced was gaining access to housing estates.

“Sometimes security guards weren’t briefed to allow access and so we struggled to get in. The other issue with access are in areas that have gang activity,” he said.

Having a census every10 years also raised the question of whether the time frame was too few or too many years.

A census is a costly and massively logistical process, Von Fintel said.

“It would be ideal to have a census every five years, especially in times when society changes rapidly.

He added: “However, the associated costs and organisational constraints sometimes limit the ability of statistical agencies to reach all households in a country as regularly as every five years.”

Von Fintel raised the point that the last census data took two years to release after verification and analysis was completed. “It is valuable to have regular data, but budget and logistical constraints often prevent that from happening.”

He added: “However, when society goes through rapid changes, questionnaires should adapt. One important innovation in Census 2022 has been to introduce online and telephonic enumeration.”

Stiegler said it was important to analyse collected data, and time was needed for that to happen. “It is a gold mine of precious information and unfortunately it is not done in all countries.”

Countries that do not conduct a census include Lebanon, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uzbekistan. Stiegler, having worked in several developed and developing countries on population and housing censuses, said the census in South Africa was well planned with utmost attention to rules, details and challenges.

“Stats SA has a team that is always dedicated to census matters and they start the planning of the next census when one is finished in accordance with the best (and rare) practices, including strong monitoring and evaluation processes.”

The census was an invaluable resource to planners and researchers, Von Fintel said.

“The data that they (Stats SA) produce is essential for reporting on South Africa’s progress and identifying bottlenecks where we should be placing our focus.”

He added: “We as researchers are eagerly anticipating the release of the census and to understand the state of the nation from the perspective of people’s living circumstances.”

Census 2022 field workers will be going door to door until March 20. Kelly said an extension was possible if the team feels they haven’t covered enough.

body.copy...: “It is important for all households to counted. We encourage households to open their doors to field workers to provide access to information,” he said.He added: “The census is so critical and it provides a baseline for all other data in the country.”

If you missed the field workers at your home and missed the online form, call 0800 110 248.

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