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A guide to earlier census data

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Printed reports containing census results have been produced for all censuses. Each were laid before Parliament and made generally available.

The mid decade 1966 Census introduced the first release of census results on electronic media, but the volume of printed results continued to grow until it reached a maximum in 1991.

Printed output was significantly reduced in 2001 with the rapid expansion of release in electronic form.

Obtaining historic census data

A complete set of all previous census printed reports is available for public access by arrangement in the library at the Office for National Statistics headquarters in London. Census Customer Services can also provide extracts of figures from historic reports on request. There is no central list of library holdings of historic Census reports, but the British Library holds a set, and university libraries may also hold the reports. Major local reference libraries also often hold historic reports.

Summary information providing a longer perspective for 1891 - 2001 is available as a series of county monitors and articles produced to celebrate 200 years of the census in 2001, and available to download in the Census bicentenary section.

Using and comparing earlier census data

The broad picture of population change can be followed from census to census, but as each census has evolved to reflect and keep up with changes in society, direct comparison does not necessarily provide a good source of information about detailed change over time. Changes in the questions asked, in the categories used to present results, and in geographical boundaries, mean that each census primarily provides a 'cross sectional' picture of the country at the time.

Elements of continuity can nevertheless be found, for example the boundaries of local government areas in England did not change substantially between 1981 and 2001, after wholesale reorganisation in 1974. Figures of population change were provided in the reports on local areas, but this information was cut back in 2001 reports.

Chapter 4 of the Census 2001 Definitions volume provides a guide to the comparability of the 1991 and 2001 UK Censuses in terms of questions, concepts and definitions. A comprehensive and striking picture of change between 1991 and 2001 is provided in 'People and places: A 2001 Census Atlas of the UK' by Daniel Dorling and Bethan Thomas, The Policy Press (University of Bristol), 2004, ISBN 1 86134 555 0.

Summaries of the changing topics covered by questions, and the changing geographical areas used in presentation of results from successive censuses help to illustrate the major differences and are available to view or download.

More information

Census Customer Services provide an enquiry service for all queries relating to products from the 2001 and previous censuses. They also advise on availability of census related products, offer guidance on copyright and licensing matters and are a central source of information on organisations providing value added products and services.

Content from the Office for National Statistics.
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