This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Census Bureau Contemplates Dropping ACS Question on Number of Marriages

An email message went out today from Professor Steven Ruggles at the Minnesota Population Center that the Census Bureau is thinking about dropping the question on the number of times respondents have been married. Here is the complete text of the message:
I am writing to alert you that the Census Bureau is planning to drop the question on "number of times married" from the American Community Survey. For those of us who study family demography, this change would be a major loss. The times married question is not only vital for understanding blended families, it is also necessary for basic studies of nuptiality and marital instability. A recent working paper by Sheela Kennedy and myself demonstrated that the ACS is the only reliable source currently available for national divorce statistics. Without the number of times married, however, the divorce data will be badly compromised; for example, it will be impossible to construct a life table for first marriages, or to estimate the percentage of people who have ever divorced.

The news of this plan appears in the Federal Register in a single sentence at the end of an otherwise harmless notice of request for comments. If you believe as I do that this change would significantly harm the nation's statistical infrastructure, you should make your feelings known to the responsible OMB desk officer, Dr. Brian Harris-Kojetin. He can be reached at (202) 395-7245 or by email at The deadline for comments is May 16.

Thank you,

Steven Ruggles
Regents Professor
Director, Minnesota Population Center
Since I recently commented on the problematic nature of divorce data in this country, you can appreciate that dropping this question from the ACS would be a serious blow to our knowledge base.

I assume that the decision is not a scientifically-based one, but rather a budget-based one. How can we trim costs in an era when Congress is constantly trying to cut the budget of the Census Bureau, as I recently noted. The answer here is that we must contact our Members of Congress and try to do a better job of convincing them that all of these data collection efforts are vital to our understanding of how America works, and this is important for the economy in thousands of ways. This is not a waste of money, and not an invasion of privacy. It is a source of information that helps drive businesses to be more profitable, and the government to be more efficient.

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