Staunton, April 8 – In the course of the last Russian census in 2010, an estimated 3.5 million residents of the Russian Federation avoided taking part, a shortfall that reduced the value of the enumeration and one Moscow hopes to avoid in the 2020 census by making participation in the count mandatory and imposing fines on those who try to avoid responding.
Rosstat, the Russian State Statistical Committee, wants to make participation in the census obligatory – it is currently at least nominally voluntary – and to impose serious fines on anyone who fails to cooperate with census takers or provide the kinds of information they seek, according to a report in today’s “Kommersant” (kommersant.ru/doc/2703849).
The paper’s Darya Nikolayeva says that Rosstat submitted a proposal calling for those changes and others to the government last week.
She notes, apparently on the basis of the committee’s application, that in the 2010 census, one million people refused to cooperate and another 2.6 million “’avoided contact with census takers.’” Moreover, 3.5 million refused to disclose their level of education, four million refused to indicate their incomes, and 4.6 million did not answer where their incomes came from.
These numbers, the paper reports, were more than double those in 2002, a trend that has the effect of making each Russian census less reliable and useful than the ones before it.
Rosstat has also asked the government to centralize all statistical work in its hands and provide it with the funds to do the work. At present, it competes with other ministries that are involved in statistical work and has long suffered from what it says is a shortage of money needed to do its job.
No census in any country ever manages to count everyone even when as is often the case, participation in the enumeration is mandatory and avoidance punishable by fines or worse. But the Russian shortfalls, combined with other problems of the census, including bureaucratic interference to boost numbers and thus get more funds from Moscow, are especially serious.
The figures “Kommersant” reports suggest that at present, Russian officials are estimating that they have missed almost three percent of the population. Given that some regions likely have far higher “miss” rates than others and that Rosstat may be understating the problem,that is yet another reason for skepticism about Russian census returns in particular and Russian statistics in general.