Background - Population and Housing census


What is a census?

Population and housing census (short ‘census’) data are a rich source of statistical information, ranging from the lowest geographical divisions, covering small areas, to the national and international levels.

A census counts the entire population and housing stock of a given country and collects information on its main characteristics (geographic, demographic, social and economic, plus household and family characteristics).

Basis of EU census

The data presented in this section are based on European statistical legislation that sets out key statistical definitions and defines the data and metadata to be produced by EU countries. The EU countries’ national censuses also abide by international guidelines and recommendations drawn up by the United Nations in cooperation with Eurostat. This ensures that the data collected are directly comparable.

The EU countries’ national statistical institutes use different methods and data sources to produce census data. There are also changes between census rounds as countries seek to reduce the costs and respondent burden of collecting data and to make efficient use of new data sources.

2011 EU census

The 2011 EU census round was a milestone. For the first time, European legislation defined in detail a set of harmonised high-quality data to be collected by census in the EU countries. Accordingly, the data from the 2011 round:

  • reflect a major collective achievement by the European Statistical System (ESS);
  • offer policymakers, researchers, businesses and the general public harmonised and comparable information that is extremely rich; and
  • provide exceptional flexibility, enabling different variables to be cross-tabulated in fine geographical detail.

Given the large volume of data collected by the national statistical institutes and its richness, new means of data transmission are needed. To meet this challenge, a modern and innovative technical tool for transmitting and disseminating data has been developed - the Census Hub.

2021 EU census

The 2021 EU census round comes at a time of fundamental transition: administrative data sources have become the backbone of the next census in most EU countries. This leads to more powerful census systems and addresses rapid changes in user expectations, with regional detail becoming increasingly important. A major innovation will be the presentation of key census topics on an EU-wide 1 km square grid. This will allow for much more flexible analysis, even at cross-border level, tailored to research or policy needs.

Eurostat has published explanatory notes on the EU legislation for the 2021 census round, with a focus on the new grid data.