Switzerland shifts to annual national census

Digital age facilitates more frequent census-taking and broader range of information

Annual census in Switzerland to more closely, quickly track the population

Neuchatel, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) - The Swiss government is moving to an annual national census, a ground shift in how the population is counted and how other data is gathered, Bern announced 21 December. The first day of the new census will be 31 December 2010, but don’t expect a phone call that day from people counters.  Only about 5 percent of the population will be surveyed, in writing or by phone, at the start, with questions that round out data supplied by official registers in all the country’s communes and cantons.

The new system will save the government some CHF100 million.

Cantons and cities will begin to gather a broader range of data to contribute to the national census, which will also take data from federal registers, notably for housing information. Surveys of 10-20,000 people will present five themes, rotating so that one is presented each year. A survey of 3,000 people covering current affairs will be carried out each year, as well.

“The information is primarily drawn from population registers and supplemented by sample surveys,” the federal Statistical Office in Neuchatel notes in a statement. “Thus, Switzerland is obtaining a modern statistical system, which makes it possible to observe on a continuous basis the structures and the development of the population and households, as well as of buildings and dwellings. Thanks to this new census, today’s greatly accelerated economic and social change can be analyzed much more effectively.”

Data used increasingly for international comparisons

A census used to be viewed mainly as number-crunching, carried out primarily for a government’s own planning purposes. This remains the case, with Switzerland using census data on the age structure of the population, the foreign population, labour market, commuters and other areas that have an impact on current affairs strategies and planning, political as well as economical. The seats in the lower house of parliament are attributed based on census figures as is the way in which cantonal revenues are shared through a federal equality programme. Cantons and communes use this data for planning schools and homes for the elderly, notes Bern.

But more recently, the census has also been used increasingly by Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical office and the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) in their international comparisons, and Switzerland has been working with their newest requirements to ensure that Swiss data can be compared to that from other countries.

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