Russia Counts: The 2002 Russian Census
In a recent seminar at the Kennan Institute, Cynthia Buckley, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas discussed the recent Russian census and the implications of its early findings. She explained that Russian leaders had hoped that the historic census would help resolve concerns about population change and provide insight into state capacity. Buckley, who participated as a member of an international delegation sent to observe the census, noted several technical problems and political difficulties associated with the census. She contended that the problems and difficulties encountered by the census gatherers would influence the data generated through the census process and urged care in the interpretation of forthcoming census results.
Originally scheduled for 1999, the Russian census was delayed several times due to financial concerns, most notably the 1998 ruble collapse. Emotionally charged debates concerning questions of religious identification (not asked on the census), ethnicity, and linguistic identification marked census discussions and preparations over the past three years, leading some scholars to questions if the census would actually appear. Finally, however, Russian officials managed to push forward and issued the census from October 16-23, 2002.
Prior to the census, most researchers and officials were concerned over expected low response rates, possible problems with double counting, a lack of consistency across enumerators and regions, self-censoring on ethnicity and language, and an inability to accurately enumerate the illegal migrant population. During the actual survey many of these problems were present, and Buckley noted that she also observed various technical problems such as double counting, poorly trained enumerators, variation on question formation, and supply difficulties (with some regions region running out of questionnaires). Buckley noted that all of these problems could have a significant effect on the overall census findings, particularly at the regional level.
Buckley pointed out that census enumerators also encountered political difficulties that will have implications on the findings. She explained how census organizers were unsure of how to address the migrant and refugee question, choosing in some cases to just ignore it, which will likely cause an undercount in Russia's larger cities and southern regions. According to Buckley, regional pressures on ethnic or linguistic identification, especially in the south, motivated many respondents of various backgrounds to list Russian as their ethnicity and language. She predicted that this would likely portray in an inaccurate increase in the number of ethnic Russians, even with the appearance of new categories such as Cossack, emerging. Regional variations also include possible gender effects, as women were usually more likely to be registered, causing an undercount in the number of working age men in high migration regions.
Buckley concluded by stating that the early results indicate that ethnic and self-identification appear very flexible. Early findings also show that due to the significant differences in the wording of questions on language use, family structure, and marriage will make comparative analysis with the findings of the 1989 Soviet census difficult.