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Northern Irelands Census – Northern Irish Geo-Demographics explained

The term census refers to any count/enumeration of items that are important to a country, such as housing, agriculture or manufacturing, taken at a particular time.  Used on its own, however, it usually refers to a census of population. 

Modern censuses aim to enumerate every person within a precisely delimited territory and sub area at a particular moment in time (known as the census moment) using one of two approaches:

  • A de jure census which tallies people according to their regular or legal residence
  • A de facto census which allocates them to the place where they spent the night on the day of enumeration

The definition of the census geography and the census moment are crucial in the planning and conduct of a census with the former requiring the use of extremely detailed maps and the later providing the chronological line separating the included from the excluded as well as the reference point for questions such as age and marital status.

A fixed questionnaire is used for interviewing and provides direct data such as name, address, date of birth and occupation, some of which is used solely to guide the enumeration process while most is used in the analysis stages. The following is one list of desirable topics suggested by the United Nations:

  • Geographic - Place enumerated and/or place of usual residence
  • Familial - Relation to head of household or family
  • Demographic - Sex, age, marital status, children ever born, birthplace
  • Economic - Type of activity, occupation, industry, employer-employee status
  • Social and Political - Citizenship, language, ethnic or religious affiliation
  • Educational - literacy or level of education, school attendance

The direct data can, in turn, be used to derive an entire set of new variables known as derived data. This involves performing operations on one or more or the direct data variables to create new values, classifications or indicators such as total population, family composition and migration data.

The depth and speed of analysis of census data has evolved considerably with the introduction of computers. In the 19th century tabulations were completed manually thus restricting the amount and complexity of the analysis performed. Today tabulations can be made relatively quickly and products are made available in a wide range of formats and detail.

Why have a census?

Census information is needed to help the government develop policies and initiatives, and for local authorities to plan services and to make effective use of resources that benefit the people of Scotland. Key users of census information also include academia, research organisations, the private and voluntary sectors, the media, and the general public.

Decisions are taken every day using census statistics. For example, the planning of school spaces, houses, care homes, hospitals and fire services are all influenced by the census.

How does the Northern Irish census differ from the rest of the UK?

There are three Census in the UK, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England and Wales. The English and Welsh Census are combined into a single one.

Each census has an authority responsible for managing it and ensuring the data is anonymised before publication to protect individuals.

The authorities responsible for the management of the census in each nation are:

  • Scotland – National Records of Scotland (NRS)
  • Northern Ireland – Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA)
  • England & Wales – Office for National Statistics (ONS)

Each authority will agree a list of questions very similar to the last census to allow for continuity and comparisons over the previous one to show changes in areas. In addition to the standard questions, there will also be some which are only relevant to that nation. E.g. in Northern Ireland one of the questions relates to the understanding of the Irish Language.

There are also some differences in the geographical structure used to release the data for wider consumption. For example, the ONS and NRS will release data at an Output Area level. However, Northern Ireland will use Small Areas as it’s census can also be joined to the Republic of Ireland census.

In essence, the geographical areas are roughly the same size so they can still be used for comparison purposes.

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