Symposium 2001/36

20 July 2001




Symposium on Global Review of 2000 Round of

Population and Housing Censuses: 

Mid-Decade Assessment and Future Prospects

Statistics Division

Department of Economic and Social Affairs

United Nations Secretariat

New York, 7-10 August 2001












2001 Census of Population: Complementary study of population with disabilities, indigenous people and communities of international migrants: Argentina*

Alejandro Giusti **



A. Issue 2: strategies for choosing among data-collection methods. 1

B. Defining minority groups. 1

1. Disability. 1

2. Indigenous peoples. 1

3. International migrants. 1

C. Measuring minority groups. 1


A. Issue 2: strategies for choosing among data-collection methods

1.                  In the last decades, which have been characterized by the globalization of the economy, new issues have appeared that are difficult to capture in a conventional census. Therefore, the census is an inadequate tool to fully capture and to monitor the extent of some changes. This produces a true “hiatus” between social and statistical realities that can be solved only by redefining the census and adopting improved strategies to accompany the census. The pressure from minorities (indigenous and disabled people) to know their total number, characteristics and location in the territory in order to defend their fundamental rights leads to increasing requirements for information from censuses.


2.                  For this reason, during the planning of the next census of population (October 2001), the national office of statistics (INDEC) in Argentina has undertaken diverse activities together with public and private users that intend to expand information on the topics mentioned above. On the one hand, strategies to improve the validity of the results and to make some aspects of the “social” reality more statistically “real” are being developed. On the other hand, methodologies to understand phenomena of a very complex nature that have not been properly captured in censuses are being studied and tested. Special groups include the disabled population, indigenous peoples and the population of international migrants, particularly those from neighbouring countries.


3.                  Several authors and the experience of census taking indicate the difficulty of measuring the first two phenomena through a unique source like the census. Since it is a mass undertaking, conducted during a limited time and with limited training of enumerators, it can focus only on phenomena that can be easily measured.

B. Defining minority groups

1. Disability

4.                  Disability is a difficult subject to deal with in the census, given its multidimensional nature and the array of available conceptual definitions. Nowadays three specific concepts are used: deficiency, disability and handicap. The first one refers to the loss or abnormality of a structure or psychological function, being physiological or anatomical. The second concept refers to the restriction or absence of a capacity (due to a deficiency or disability) to perform an activity that is considered normal according to age, sex, judgment and social situation. The third refers to a disadvantageous situation for an individual as a result of a deficiency or disability that limits or impedes normal performance.

2. Indigenous peoples

5.                  The identification of indigenous people in the census also constitutes a challenge, given the complexity of its conceptualization and its difficult social visibility. This is especially true in a country such as Argentina, which has as its “official story” the great migratory flows that came from Europe and built our country as it is today.


6.                  Different criteria are used to quantify indigenous peoples in censuses. In Latin America, the most widely used criteria are geographic location, language spoken and self-identification. In North America, the criterion used is ethnic origin.

3. International migrants

7.                  Finally, there is the problematic study of international migration. The difficulty is not so much one of identification as it is of the fact that the census is incapable of accounting for the new modalities and dynamics of spatial mobility of the people in the context of globalized economic and social spaces. It is in this context that the knowledge of migratory trajectories, networks of exchange and circulation of goods and services has become an inevitable issue for the formulation of public policies.

C. Measuring minority groups

8.                  The analysis of these situations and the modalities of measuring these phenomena through diverse sources, particularly from other countries of the region, together with the few quantitative experiences of our country, have led the National Bureau of Statistics to call upon governmental organizations as well as the non-governmental ones to have experts analyse each topic. At the same time, the Bureau has kept in mind the different international recommendations, as well as reality in Argentina. All of these factors have  shown that there is a need for special methodology for the study of these topics in the 2001 census.


9.                  For these three topics, the methodological proposal is to carry out the census in two phases. First, within the framework of the 2001 census, disabled people, indigenous people, and international migrants in the households will be identified. The requirements imposed on the design of the census questions were these:


·        It had to be simple for the person who administers the census to the people, and it had to be easy for the respondent to understand;

·        It did not trigger a discussion between the respondent and the person who administers the question, so as not to affect the measurement of other habitual aspects of the census;

·        Its concept can be easily reflected during the training course; and

·        Finally, it allows the phenomenon to be registered in the simplest possible way.


10.              In the case of disabled persons, a question on deficiencies, disability and handicaps will be asked. The question to identify indigenous people in the household implies self-identification or self-perception and ethnic origin. The need to combine the criteria of self-identification with ethnic origin or descent lies in the fact that, knowing our prejudices in Argentina, we wanted to make the question broad enough to give people the chance to identify themselves in one way or the other. Both questions are included in the section of the census that deals with households. Finally, international migrants will be identified from the place of birth that is being asked of each member of the household.


11.              In the second phase of the census, which will be carried out during 2002, a sample of households with people identified during the census with these characteristics will be revisited to administer a topic-specific questionnaire that will allow a more valid characterization of these groups in Argentina. From the pilot census, complementary studies were carried out for the three groups during 2000 to validate, on the one hand, the question used in the census, and on the other hand to improve the understanding of the universe captured by the census.


12.              In the case of people with disabilities, a questionnaire with 30 questions allowed us to describe in detail this difficult-to-measure phenomenon. In the case of indigenous people, an 18-page questionnaire covered three dimensions: self-identification, ascendance and language. Finally, the survey of migrants included the items of trajectories, networks of exchange and physical and non-physical links among the members of the bordering community.


13.              The geographic coverage of the second phase is still to be defined. This will depend upon the analysis of these groups as identified in the census.


*       This document was reproduced without formal editing.

**     Direccion Nacional de Estadisticas Sociales y de Poblacion, Argentina. The views expressed in the paper are those of the author and do not imply the expression of any opinion on the part of the United Nations Secretariat.