2022 census: Why millions of people are being surveyed


How many people live in Germany? Are there enough apartments, schools, places to study? The census is intended to provide data for good planning – and sometimes causes surprises.

< p>Where does who live and how in Germany? And anyway: how many Germans are there and how old are they on average? Where do a particularly large number of singles or seniors live? Where are there how many apartments, hospitals – where is there a shortage?

The 2022 census is something like “an inventory in the supermarket,” says Stefan Dittrich in a telephone interview with DW. Dittrich is the technical project manager for the 2022 census at the Federal Statistical Office. He and his team of 50 are sort of the model builders for the upcoming census, which begins May 15.

The data collected are intended to reveal the economic, demographic and social structure of society in Germany and provide information on where there is a need for political action. The last census in 2011 had caused surprises. The then general inventory showed that around 1.5 million fewer people lived in Germany than assumed.

Actually, the census should have taken place last year; i.e. in the planned 10-year cycle. Because of the corona pandemic, however, the survey had to be postponed to 2022.

A census for democracy from democracy

The data is not only important for cities and communities. Also for politics, explains Dittrich: “We need the exact number of inhabitants, for example for the division of the constituencies and the distribution of votes in the Bundesrat.” How many seats a federal state gets in the state chamber is defined by the number of inhabitants in the federal states, which must first be determined exactly.

Stefan Dittrich and his team launched the 2022 census

The census is based on EU law. Many questions are therefore already given. The Bundestag determines the rest “and not the statisticians,” as Dittrich explains. For example, questions about living conditions. There is no uniform administrative register in Germany that records the stock of apartments and buildings across the board. That is why the statisticians – on behalf of politics – are asking more precisely in this area.

Because it has been clear for a long time: There is a lack of apartments in Germany. What is new is that, for the first time, the net cold rent, the duration and the reason for an apartment being vacant and the type of heating are also queried. “Everyone can certainly understand that this question is very topical at the moment and will help for better planning in the future,” says Dittrich.

Who is being asked?

Not all of the estimated 83 million people living in Germany are surveyed. This is not necessary because the statisticians can obtain a lot of data from the administrative registers, such as the population register. It records who lives where.

Around 10.3 million people are questioned in more detail; also by the approximately 100,000 so-called survey officers during visits to the front door. “We try to keep contact with the interviewers as little as possible,” assures project manager Dittrich. A lot of data could also be submitted later by e-mail or post. Anyone who is asked to do so must take part, because the Germans have an obligation to provide information in the census and must expect a fine of 300 euros if they do not comply.

Around 10 million citizens can expect a home visit in the 2022 census

Citizens do not have to reveal their account balance or their TV viewing habits. But data such as gender, marital status and date of birth are requested. There are also more detailed inquiries about occupation, level of education, nationality and the housing situation. In addition, all of the approximately 23 million owners should provide information about apartments and buildings.

The Scandinavians are doing it – once again – better

But why actually a questioning at the door in the age digitization and comprehensive data collection? Because in Germany not all important data is collected via the existing registers. This places Germany – internationally – in the middle.

The Scandinavian countries are pioneers, explains economist Dittrich from the Federal Statistical Office. There is a uniform personal identification number there: “That means that wherever you come into contact with the state – at the place of study, at the residents' registration office or when registering a car – you give your personal identification number.” In Scandinavia, but also in Austria and Estonia, the statisticians would only have to collate the various register sources.

Germany, on the other hand, has a “mixed model”. So certain sources – such as the population register – would be used; but would have to be supplemented by surveys, explains Dittrich. At the end of the scale is the Anglo-American region. There, the questioning usually takes place at the door because there is no obligation to register as a resident. “The municipality doesn't even know that I'm moving there,” says Dittrich.

1987: Protest against the census in Berlin

As late as the 1980s, the referendum planned by the West German government led to violent protests. In 1983, the Bundestag in Bonn introduced a so-called census law, which many people protested against. On the one hand, this was due to the fact that the planned census reminded many people of the systematic collection of data – such as religious affiliation – as used by the Nazis. But also because data protection was not sufficiently ensured. The highest court in Germany, the Federal Constitutional Court, stopped the project with the so-called census judgment. Before the 1983 judgment, for example, it was still possible to send personal data collected as part of the census back to the municipalities. This is now no longer allowed. The census did not take place until 1987 under the new legal framework.

Today there is no longer any major resistance to the forthcoming census. This is probably also due to the fact that the way Google, Amazon, PayPal and other companies deal with data has changed drastically. Skepticism about data collection has decreased. Expert Dittrich puts it this way: “Especially when you compare what you reveal about yourself when you make an online purchase, the questions we ask as part of a census are comparatively modest.”

The 2022 census costs. Whether the findings are actually so valuable is subject to “a personal assessment of how much a good data basis for political decisions or vote weighting in the Bundesrat is worth,” says Stefan Dittrich from the Federal Statistical Office. It will only be possible to assess this at the end of 2023, when the results of the 2022 census can be expected.