The Census: Should We Abolish the Long Form?

As a social scientist I’m not happy with the idea that Ottawa is considering abolition of the long form.  The social sciences require data, especially data that can be compared over years. As a private citizen, I’m beginning to think that it might not be a bad idea. The long form nudges and prods. It’s intrusive.

This household had the long form in 2005. We were asked how many hours of unpaid work we did “in and around” the house. List and describe.

Person A (male, 69 years, of Jewish origin) said that his unpaid work around the house consisted of reading, writing, and thinking. In response to the form’s delicate inquiry as to how much time he spends daily on these activities, he wrote: “sixteen hours.” (As the song says: “that leaves eight hours for sleep”)

Person B (female, 70 years, admitting to a Canadian identity) said that she did no unpaid work in and around the house. Indignant thoughts filled her mind as she made out her reply. She’s a householder, not an indentured servant! Householders, homeowners, do not do “unpaid work.” They look after themselves. What would it mean to do “paid work”? Should a householder pay herself, or himself, out of the family account?  What nonsense.

Person B is Jewish, but she put herself into the census as “Canadian” because she wants to see the census continue to list “Canadian” as a category in the section on “identity.” When the question about “identity” first appeared, one was more or less forbidden to describe oneself as “Canadian.” One was not encouraged at any rate. There were complaints. On this form one was not able to indicate that one was both Jewish and Canadian. Pity.

A few weeks afterward, B came into the house to find A on the telephone. He was saying: “Well, she writes books on Canadian constitutional law.” For goodness sakes! It was Ottawa on the line, inquiring about just what B did with her time. Intrusive? I’ll say.

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2 Responses to “The Census: Should We Abolish the Long Form?”


  1. 1 Bob July 19, 2010 at 10:46 am

    You are a social scientist? I thought you were a political philosopher, contemplating the “good society”… Not really a “science” is it? Definitely does not rely on the census!

  2. 2 oonae July 21, 2010 at 10:20 am

    This is a very funny post. Clearly what they want to know is whether the male householder reports himself as doing as many household chores as the female, so they can compare that to studies that don’t involve self-reporting. And so on, along ethnic lines. Poor fellows just want to know who vacuums, and how much! They should ask clearer questions.

    You can get yourself into a lot of trouble with answers like yours. I almost got hauled over by the border guard who asked me when was the last time I worked. He wasn’t impressed with my answer: “I’m working right now!”


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