France's 2020 census - who will be counted and when?

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France's 2020 census - who will be counted and when?
The census counters could soon be knocking on your door. Photo: AFP

France is preparing for its 2020 census count so in the next few weeks you might get a knock on the door. Here's what you need to know about the process.


Like most countries, France produces regular census reports that show who lives in the country and how they are living. This data is then used to inform all sorts of things from government policy to historical records.

1. Who gets counted?

Anyone who has been living in France for one year or more can be counted - including foreigners. You don't need to be a citizen or have a carte de séjour to be counted, if you're in the country and have been for 12 months or more you count.

So the data includes migrants, students and temporary workers. People who have been in the country for less than 12 months can also be counted if they have a clear intention to stay - for example if they are enrolled on a two-year study programme or if they have a permanent contract of employment.

Valérie Roux, head of the demography department at the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) which collects the census data told BFMTV: "The total time spent on the territory and the projected time must be at least one year."

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2. When does it happen?

The data collecting is done between January and March, but the exact date depends on where you live and the size of the community you live in.

Smaller communities have the whole population counted, but on a rolling programme over five years, larger places get a count every year, but only eight percent of the population is surveyed.

So if you live in a commune of more than 10,000 people you could be one of the surveyed eight percent this year. If you live in a smaller place you might not be surveyed in 2020 - click here to find out when the next count is for your area.

This year 7,000 communities with less than 10,000 inhabitants will be counted and in mainland France the counts take place between January 16th and February 15th.

In communes with more than 10,000 inhabitants, the count takes place between January 16th to February 22nd.

3. How is the counting done?

In good news for those worried that their French might not be up to a detailed interview, the count is done by filling in a questionnaire.

The 24,000 enumerators go door to door to the households selected for counting and hand out login details for the online version of the questionnaire. About 60 percent of people choose to fill in the questionnaire online, but if you prefer the enumerators can also hand out paper versions of the questionnaire.

Taking part is a legal obligation so you must do it if selected. According to INSEE, about 96 percent of people selected fill in the questionnaire fully.

4. What do they ask?

There are two parts to the questionnaire - one part about where you live and one part about you.

The part about your home will ask questions like the size, number of rooms, year of construction, while the other part asks about 30 questions including your age, place of birth, marital status, professional status and what methods of transport you use. They will not ask about your religion or ethnicity.

READ ALSO What's in a name? How to fill out French forms

5. What happens to the data?

Only INSEE can see the raw data, which cannot be passed on to governments or tax authorities without first being throroughly anonymised. Historic census data is released after 100 years, so if you have French ancestors you can read up about their lives through their census information.

Although the counting is done every year, the census itself is only released every five years.

French vocab

Le recensement - the census

Recenser - to count

Les agents recenseurs - enumerators (ie the people who actually go door to door handing out the questionnaires)

Feuille de logement - the part of the questionnaire concerning your home

Bulletin individuel - the part with the individual questions

Lieu de naissance - place of birth

Situation conjugale - marital status

Niveau de diplôme - education level

Activité professionnelle -  professional status

Moyens de transports utilisés - methods of transport used




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