Searching for Foreign Census Data

I’ve been looking for census data for various countries, and have visited the usual suspects that aggregate this data – the CIA World Factbook and the United Nations Population Information Network. Other supra-national orgs like the IMF and World Bank also create and compile this info. These are fine sources, particularly if your goal is to look at basic data for several (or all) countries. But if you are studying or writing about one country in particular, it may seem odd to cite the UN, and even odder to cite the CIA. It would be better to go right to the source – the chief statistical agency in that particular country. In all likelihood, this agency would also have more in-depth stats than the aggregators.

But – where is the source? Rather than be left to the mercy of google, where you’ll uncover the obvious suspects and lots of commercial sites and joe-schmoes who republished some data from last decade, visit the US Census Bureau’s list of foreign statistical agencies, which will lead you right to the source.

Assuming you can find some pages with some data (census data isn’t public domain in every country and isn’t necessarily online for free, or at all, in which case you may need to go with some of the aggregate sources), the next obstacle will be overcoming the language barrier. Many countries will publish pages in several languages, including English. Some may publish only limited info in English, or no info in English at all. If you don’t read the lingua franca, you can try a translating tool like Babblefish or the Google Language Tool to translate the page for you. The translation may not be perfect, but it should be good enough where you can figure out what you need (although if the language you are translating doesn’t use the Roman alphabet and Arabic numerals – i.e. 1,2,3 etc, you may have some trouble).

The toughest obstacle to overcome may be the organizational barrier. If you are familiar with the US Census Bureau, you’ll know that it’s a large and complex organization with many subdivisions and datasets (decennial census, acs, population estimates, etc). And despite it’s enormity, it doesn’t collect all socio-economic data (religious affiliation) and may not be the best source for all data (current labor force stats). Well – other countries are just as complicated, so be wary!

Another strategy would be to visit Wikipedia – not to cite as a source, but to find what sources they use. You’ll find many country specific articles that cite the CIA Factbook or the UN, but some of the more detailed and well written ones do cite reports written by the statistical agencies for the country in question, often with a link to the page or report. If you have access to some library databases, like Gale Virtual Reference, they will (usually) cite sound references as well. Happy hunting!

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