2021 population census will delve more deeply into nature of immigration

Population affairs minister Riina Solman (Isamaa).
Population affairs minister Riina Solman (Isamaa). Source: ERR/ Kadri Põlendik

A questionnaire prepared in advance of the 2021 Estonian population census will be used in drawing up methodologies which will provide far more data on immigration and households in Estonia, as well as cut down on inaccurate data on areas such as place of residence, Baltic News Service reports.

2021's census will use a combined method, meaning most required data will be retrieved from registers, supplemented by that data which is not available, or not available accurately, either online or by census takers for those who do not respond to an online invitation.

Several key additions were accordingly made to the census questionnaire, which will now ask about permanent place of residence and household size, native language and ethnicity, differentiate between "new" immigrants and returnees, i.e. Estonian citizens who have returned to their home land after a period abroad – such people are included in Estonia's immigration statistics.

Population affairs minister: More accurate, wide-ranging data needed

Minister of Population Affairs Riina Solman (Isamaa) oversaw the working party which came up with the amendments at the end of last month, and which is the result of a cross-ministry and state agency cooperation.

Solman said: "Combined methodologies significantly reduce the amount of time necessary for filling in the questionnaire, while enabling to preserve the substantiveness and quality of data.".

Combined methodologies had already greatly reduced the time taken to conduct the last census in 2011, compared with previous censuses, BNS reports.

Solman added the changes had been made in order to provide enough data necessary for use by state institutions, "scientists" and society as a whole.

New questions to be tested ahead of actual census

Director general of state agency Statistics Estonia Mart Mägi will now roll out the new additions for testing from the beginning of next year, in time for the 2021 census.

Lea Danilson-Järg, head of the department for population and family policy at the Ministry of the Interior, coordinated the work of the work group for making additions to the questionnaire, and said the additions take into consideration the positions of the ministries of the interior, social affairs, education and research, culture, environment, the Tax and Customs Board (MTA), the Language Board (Keeleinspektsioon), as well as social and population scientists and linguists.

The four new categories in detail are:

  1. Questions about actual permanent place of residence and household members due to an estimated 20 percent of Estonian residents not registered at address where they actually live, with an even greater disparity when it comes to household makeup. This area of study will also help Statistics Estonia and other authorities assess how well data collection has gone over the past few years, and to assess regional development.
  2. Questions about native language and ethnicity, which is not held for all residents of Estonia in the detail authorities would like, and is often missing for more recent arrivals. Moreover, residents themselves can give the best overview of their own background, it is argued, with up to two native tongues and ethnicities permissible per person, and following methodologies used in the U.S. for around 20 years.
  3. Questions for returnees since the last census 10 years ago, following a trial cendus which showed gaps in this small, but growing segment of society. This would also encapsulate data on what the returnee had done for work when they were abroad.
  4. Questions on living conditions, including a better overview of the rental situation, those who are resident "for free", i.e. not needing to pay rents or home loan repayments, as well as information on ecologically-friendly areas such as heating, and also on crisis readiness.

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed many residents who do not have data entered in the population registry, as well as discrepancies between where a person is registered as living and where in practice they actually reside.

The questionnaire should take an average of about 20 minutes to fill in online, BNS reports, while a face-to-face interview would take about half that time.

The census itself will take place in late 2021.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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