History of the censuses


The first official statistical service in Hungary was established in 1867 by the government of the time, with the creation of a statistical department within the Ministry of Agriculture, Industry and Trade. Its first head was Károly Keleti. Recognising the needs of the newly independent Hungarian state for data on the composition of the population and housing stock, one of the first and most important tasks of the new organisation was to organise the first census of 1869, a comprehensive survey covering the whole country, which, like all Hungarian censuses since then, included an enumeration of dwellings.


The second census, carried out in 1880, was organised by the independent National Hungarian Royal Statistical Office, established in 1871, taking into account the decision of the Eighth Conference of the organisation called International Statistical Congresses held in St Petersburg in 1872 to hold a complete census of population and housing in European countries, always at the same time, in years ending in 0. Hungary conformed to this decision of the conference when it carried out the 1880 census.


International requirements were also an important consideration in drawing up the programme for the 1890 census. Experts from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences were also involved in the development of the programme. In accordance with the law ordering the census, the data collection included not only information on dwellings but also a census of public and private buildings.


The success of the fourth census in 1900 was greatly helped by the adoption of the Official Statistical Service Act in 1897, which gave the Central Statistical Office considerable autonomy. The previous censuses, as well as other census contexts, provided considerable experience in organisation and management. The introduction of the training of enumerators was a factor that improved the quality of data collection, and the remuneration paid to enumerators for the first time may also have had an encouraging effect.


The 1910 census also saw an increased demand for data from the profession, motivated by the adverse events of the decade. The increasingly tense international and domestic political climate, together with unfavourable demographic phenomena (falling birth rate, wave of emigration) and stagnating economic development, led to a demand for new, fresh data. The statistical service, which has been considerably strengthened in the meantime, has also been helped by the discipline of data communication.


The results of the 1920 census were needed not only because of the evolution of the number and composition of the population and the housing stock, but also for an accurate assessment of the losses suffered during the First World War. The processing of the data was, however, significantly affected by the limited financial resources available, for example the impossibility of introducing the kind of machine processing that was already in use in the more developed countries of Europe at the time. One of the basic principles of the census, completeness, could not be fulfilled, as after the Trianon decision part of the southern part of the country was under Yugoslav control until November 1921, after which the population could be counted. A part of the outskirts of Szeged and three settlements in north-western Hungary came under Hungarian rule even later (their data could only be produced years later and only by estimation). An interesting feature of the census is that this was the first time that - "suitably educated" - women were employed as enumerators.


In 1930, the traditional housing and population census was supplemented by the collection of data on self-employed craftsmen and tradesmen. Technological progress allowed for much more effective propaganda activities than before, including radio broadcasts. A major change was the first attempt to mechanise data processing.


The timing of the next census was significantly influenced by the territorial changes brought about by the Vienna decisions, which meant that the census could not be carried out until February 1941 (the “southern land”, occupied in April, was enumerated in October). The non-Hungarian population was enumerated on questionnaires printed in their own mother tongue. A new tool in the propaganda work was the film newsreel, which the census leaders successfully used.


The first census in Hungary after World War II was held in 1949. The reason for bringing forward the census planned to 1950 was not only to assess war losses, but also because only estimates of the large-scale population movement (migration) were available, and the data from the previous census of 1941 were out of date. The data collection was supplemented by a census of craftsmen, traders and farmers. In order to gain the trust of the population, the enumerators took an oath of secrecy, and radio, the press, and the newsreels, which were already widespread nationwide, played a major role in promoting the census. The data was processed centrally in the Population Census Department of the Central Statistical Office, with machine processing for personal data.


The preparation and organisation of the 1960 census differed in many respects from previous data collections, and its objectives included several elements that had not been present in previous data collections. The achievement of these objectives was based on extensive preparatory work. The planned forms and questionnaires were tested almost two years before the data collection, in 1958, which was repeated a year later.

In preparation for the census, maps were drawn up on a uniform scale to establish enumeration districts in urban and semi-urban settlements, and an inventory and sketch map of the outlying inhabited areas was prepared. A pioneering and unprecedented step to ensure completeness was the compilation of a street and house number register, which, in addition to registering the exact location, also included the name of the owner of the housing unit at the address and the number of occupants.

The basic questionnaires for the census were the census sheet with a register structure and the building sheet. The census form contained questions on persons, families, households and dwellings. In addition to the census of dwellings, the census also included an enumeration of so-called institutional households (dormitories, workers' hostels, social homes, hospitals, hotels, etc.). Although they had been included in the census since 1890, it was only then that detailed enumeration began.

The data were processed by computer. The manuscripts of the so-called processing tables, compiled in the traditional way, were then made into publications by means of printing typesetting.

After 1960, in each census cycle, the Central Statistical Office also carried out microcensuses (1963, 1968, 1973, 1984 and 1996), initially covering one and later two per cent of the population and housing, to help meet the demand for fresh data between the two full censuses.


In preparation for the 1970 census of population and housing, the organisers reverted from register census questionnaires to individual personal questionnaires. In drawing up the theme, particular attention was paid to the recommendations of international organisations, in particular the United Nations, on censuses. The spatial work was helped by the extension of the street and house index introduced in 1960 to the dwelling level and the production of a complete set of maps, and the classification of enumeration districts into sub-districts and town planning districts. Greater use was made of the national and local press to promote the census. The data were now processed exclusively by computer, including checking the correlation between questions and answers and correcting errors where necessary, which saved considerable manual labour. This was the first census in Hungary where the tables of the publications were printed out of the computer in a reproducible form.


The main purpose of the 1980 census was to provide basic data for economic planning, especially territorial and long-range planning, and to provide an account of the demographic trends and changes in the population, assessing the impact of the population policy measures taken in the mid-1970s. A new demand has also been placed on the census: to provide a picture of the stratification of society. The basic questionnaires were the personal questionnaire and the housing questionnaire. A separate questionnaire was used to enumerate institutions and holiday homes. Unfortunately, the census of holiday homes did not yield the expected results, as the data were collected by place of residence of the owner and the declaration was only partial, mainly due to perceived fears, resulting in a significant undercount.

The preparation of the data for computer processing (e.g. conversion of text responses into numbers, coding) was decentralised to the regional directorates of the Hungarian Central Statistical Office. The computerisation of the data was also decentralised and was carried out by the Computer and Administration Services Company of the HCSO in its fourteen computer centres located in different counties of the country.


At the end of the 1980s, the political and economic regime change began. The introduction of the world passport symbolised the freedom of the people, the dissolution of the isolation from the world, the monopoly of state property in economic life was gradually abolished, the one-party system was overthrown, and strict state control of cultural life was essentially abolished, which was reflected not only in the advance of traditional cultural values but also in the strengthening of religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

The 1990 census programme reflected the specific features of this transitional period and the social demands associated with it. To test the programme and to develop more modern methods of data collection and processing, a series of pilot enumerations were carried out by the experts at the Hungarian Central Statistical Office. The experience from these trials showed that existing administrative registration systems (State Population Register, Single Labour Register) could be used to successfully implement the data collection. However, resistance from many quarters and the existing tight financial constraints made their use only partially possible. Thus, only the State Population Register database was used as a reference. From this, the register of names and addresses was produced by machine. However, the resulting list contained a large number of inaccuracies which had to be corrected by a field visit before the data could be collected.

The tense domestic political climate accompanying the political and economic transition created uncertainty among the population and reduced the willingness to provide data. The work was not helped by the fact that in the year of the census there were parliamentary elections in the spring and local elections in the autumn, the impact of which was already noticeable in the preparation of the census, but especially during its implementation. The local authorities, which at that time were in council form, did not see their primary task as being to assist with the census, but were rather preoccupied with the forthcoming elections.

Sensing problems, the census organisers paid increased attention to a much more thoughtful and effective propaganda effort. In addition to the written and electronic press, this included posters, match stickers, postcards and stamps.

Summary data from the 1990 census In 1990, as in 1970, in addition to the full census, a representative census of 20% of the housing stock and population (25% in 1970) was carried out. The representative survey asked more detailed questions than the baseline survey on the technical condition of dwellings and their premises, as well as on the education, occupation and commuting of persons. The representative questions also covered disability and included additional information on women's fertility.

Again, the data were processed by the HCSO Computer and Administration Services Company. The final data checking and tabulation was carried out at the Central Statistical Office's Computer Centre. The data were published by the HCSO in a series of 85 printed publications and 2 CD-ROMs.


The changed economic and political climate, as well as technological advances, required that the experts preparing the 2001 Census adopt different methods in several respects. The new methods affected the preparation of the census, the implementation of the data collection and the processing of the data, and also affected the way in which the data were communicated and published.

One of the cornerstones of the territorial preparation of the census was the production of the list of addresses. For this purpose, the experts drew on the computerised address list from the 1990 census and the database of the State Population Register. The database, which was merged by running the two systems together, was checked, corrected and supplemented by field visits.

The conduct of the data collection followed traditional practice. The questionnaires were completed by interview, but of course self-completion was also possible, and if the respondent insisted for some reason that his data be collected in a municipality or if he wished to hand in the completed questionnaire at a municipality, this was also possible.

A significant difference from previous censuses was that the data were collected anonymously. Before the start of the data collection - after consultation with the Data Protection Commissioner - the Hungarian Central Statistical Office arranged for the address of the census location to be omitted too.

A significant innovation in the 2001 Census is the method of computerisation of the data based on optical character recognition. This method has not yet been used in Hungary in the case of such a large amount of questionnaires containing many correlations and used in a one-time survey.

As in previous censuses, the theme of the census was the result of a long process of consultation. In addition to government bodies, consultation involved NGOs, research bodies and individual researchers, as well as consultation with the Data Protection Commissioner. The needs were very wide-ranging and generally beyond the scope of what a full census could achieve. A key task in the preparation was therefore to coordinate needs. This had to take into account the Hungarian census tradition and the recommendations of international organisations, such as the United Nations, the European Union and its statistical body Eurostat, on both basic and non-basic issues.

In addition to professional consultation, the form and content of the final questionnaires were developed taking into account the experience of the pilot census carried out in September 1999. Compared to previous censuses, the number of questions referring to address has been significantly increased, the group of questions on occupation and employment has been expanded and reworded in line with international standards, and the method of recording qualifications obtained in the ever-changing Hungarian school systems has been revised. In addition, the census enumeration questionnaire, which is otherwise based on compulsory data provision, included so-called sensitive questions (mother tongue, nationality, nationality affiliation, language used in family and friends, religion, disability) as voluntary questions requiring special treatment from the point of view of personality rights, which were well received by the population.

The inclusion of institutions providing community accommodation or accommodation and care (e.g. student hostels, children's homes, work shelters, social homes, hospitals, hotels) has been expanded and reworded. The information obtained from this could provide an answer to the types of institutions and conditions in which people in institutional care live, and to the differences in living conditions between, for example, those in institutions run by public and those run by non-public bodies and organisations (churches, NGOs, private individuals, etc.).


The 2011 census was the fifteenth in the history of censuses in Hungary and the first to be conducted as a member of the European Union. For the first time, the census was also bound by EU legislation, which set out the mandatory data to be collected in order to make the data comparable between countries, but left the method of data collection to the Member States.

In view of the fact that in some European countries census data are compiled without interviewing the population, using only administrative data sources, the HCSO again examined in detail the possibility of adapting this method and the suitability of domestic administrative records for census purposes in the course of preparing the census. In the absence of conclusive results, the census was carried out in October 2011 in the traditional way, with a complete survey of the population, but with a number of methodological innovations. The most important of these innovations was the possibility to fill in the questionnaire online, which, like in Hungary, was used for the first time in the history of censuses in many countries. Even the pilot surveys showed that online completion was very well received by the population. In the course of the census, questionnaires were received in this way from 19 percent of the addresses during the two weeks available. Two specific groups were also offered this possibility through two independent channels: temporary expatriates and diplomats on permanent duty abroad were also able to complete their data by filling in an online questionnaire.

In order to gain the trust of the population, the HCSO has intensified its efforts. During the 2011 census, it launched the Civil Partner Program for the first time, a wide-ranging cooperation with various civil organizations. During the design of the questionnaire and the discussion of the response options, consultations were held with organisations of people with disabilities, religious leaders, representatives of national and ethnic minorities. Organizational tasks and guidelines were discussed with the various associations of municipalities and municipal clerks. A further good example of cooperation is the campaign conducted by nationalities and churches to get the population concerned to acknowledge their national-ethnic or religious affiliation, so that the census can also bring the results as close as possible to reality on these issues.

In accordance with the cooperation agreement with the President of the HCSO, the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has been involved in all the technical, organisational and IT aspects of the preparation and implementation of the census, ensuring that data protection standards are respected at all stages and under all circumstances.

Communication played a particularly important role in the 2011 Census. During the campaign, between 1 May and 31 December 2011, 3 768 articles, interviews and reports on the census were published in print, broadcast and electronic media. The Census website had 1 291 903 visitors, with an average of 18 000 clicks per day. To answer questions and problems of the population, to provide assistance and information on the census, the HCSO operated an Internet and telephone helpline. During the period of the census, staff answered 14 000 email enquiries and 235 378 telephone enquiries.