Departmental Papers (SPP)

Document Type

Journal Article

Date of this Version

February 1999


Following a critique of the 1990 decennial census procedures, we conducted a field study among low-income, inner-city residents in 1991 to examine how they conceptualized and managed the civic task of census response. Interpretations about the purpose and meaning of the census, about commitment to the task, and about connection to government, singly and together with literacy skills (e.g., reading and general literacy competence), were associated with errors that are not detectable by evaluative methodologies used regularly by the Census Bureau. The validity and reliability of census data, and possibly other self-administered survey research, will be increased by greater use of knowledge about both interpretation and literacy skills in formulating data collection procedures.


Reprinted from Demography, Volume 36, Issue 1, February 1999, pages 121-134.
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Permission granted by Population Association of America.



Date Posted: 22 January 2007

This document has been peer reviewed.