Population registers

Concepts and definitions
Population register (paras. 500-501)
Main uses of the population register (paras. 502-504)

1. Population register (paras. 500-501)

The population register is a mechanism for the continuous recording of selected information pertaining to each member of the resident population of a country or area, making it possible to determine up-to-date information about the size and characteristics of the population at selected points in time. Because of the nature of a population register, its organization, as well as its operation, should have a legal basis.1 2 Population registers start with a base consisting of an inventory of the inhabitants of an area and their characteristics, such as date of birth, sex, marital status, place of birth, place of residence, citizenship and language. To assist in locating a record for a particular person, household or family in a population register, an identification number is provided for each entity.

The population register can contain other socio-economic data, such as occupation or education. The population register should be updated by births, deaths, marriages and divorces, which are part of the civil registration system of the country. The population register is also updated by migration. Thus, the population register is the result of a continuous process, in which notifications of certain events, which may have been recorded originally in different administrative systems, are automatically linked to a population register on a current basis. The method and sources of updating should cover all changes so that the characteristics of individuals in the register remain current.

2. Main uses of the population register (paras. 502-504)

The main administrative functions of population registers are to provide reliable information for the various purposes of government, particularly for programme planning, budgeting and taxation; for issuing unique personal identification numbers; for establishing the eligibility of individuals for voting, education, health, military service, social insurance and welfare and the pension system; and for police and judicial references.

Population registers are also useful for population estimation, census planning, census evaluation and for sampling frame of household surveys. Some countries use population registers to produce census-typed tables every five or 10 years in place of conducting regular census operations. If complete, population registers can produce data on both internal and international migration through the recording of changes of residence as well as the recording of international arrivals and departures.

Population registers represent one of the independent sources of data with which the population census results can be compared as part of the process of evaluating the accuracy of the latter. Comparison can be made between aggregates compiled from the two sources or by one-to-one matching of the corresponding records of the individuals so as to correct either the census or the population register.

3. Coordination arrangements between the population register and the civil registration and vital statistics systems (paras. 505.-509)

Some countries have separate agencies for the population register for civil registration and for vital statistics. It is recommended that, in such a situation, births, deaths, marriages, divorces and other vital events recorded by the civil registration system be used as the base for updating the population register. This provides an opportunity for both programmes to share and compare information while meeting their own separate objectives. The information on vital events should be transmitted to the agency responsible for vital statistics.

In some countries, the production of vital statistics is the responsibility of the population registration agency. In this instance, this agency is concerned not only with the registration of various vital events and their changes but also with the updating of the register and the compilation of vital statistics. The Norwegian and Bulgarian population registers are examples
of this type of arrangement and are under the administration of the respective statistical authorities of the countries. This is the preferred situation, where one agency is responsible for civil registration, the maintenance of the population register and the production of vital statistics.

If different agencies are responsible for different functions, the absence of good coordination between agencies might result in the production of different series of vital statistics which are inconsistent. Under this arrangement the coordination of the production of vital statistics is possible at two levels: the data-collection level and the data-processing level. At the data-collection level, one form, such as a multi-part form, is used to record the data and copies are sent to each organization for entry into its system. Thus, the same source documents serve as input into the respective systems.

The experience of some countries has shown that when a single record is used for both population register and vital statistics purposes, the most difficult task is handling confidential
medical data on births, deaths and foetal deaths. A discussion of the problem of using the same form for registration and statistics can be found in the Handbook on Vital Statistics Systems and Methods, using the Norway population register as an example.3

The population register and the civil registration system contain common data elements, the use of which requires a method for record linkage between the population register and the civil registration databases. Both have personal identifying information in the database, such as name, age or birth date, sex or place of residence. The linkage then becomes a task for computer matching since the volume of records would make any manual approach very difficult. The use of unique personal identifiers simplifies the matching process.



1 See Methodology and Evaluation of Population Registers and Similar Systems (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.69.XVII.15).

2 See Handbook on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Systems: Computerization (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.98.XVII.10), para. 124–134; see also “Danish experience with the computerization of the civil registration system, the role and status of civil registration (population registration) and vital statistics systems in Norway” and “Population registration in Sweden” papers presented at an African workshop for French-speaking countries on accelerating the improvement of civil registration and vital statistics systems, Rabat, 4 to 8 December 1995 (United Nations Statistics Division files).

3 See Handbook of Vital Statistics Systems and Methods, vol. 1, Legal, Organizational and Technical Aspects. (United Nations publication, Sales No.E.91.XVII.5).

United Nations Statistics Division - Demographic and Social Statistics