SSRIC Teaching Resources Depository
Exploring the US Census
Eugene Turner, California State University, Northridge

Exploring the US Census: Preface

© The Author, 1998; Last Modified 17 August 1998
The Census Bureau collects and publishes a wide range of statistics about the population, housing, economy, productivity, and government in the United States. Data on these subjects are periodically collected and tabulated to give a better understanding of American society.

Perhaps the most sought-after data are the statistics on housing and population collected in each decennial census because they provide the best information on the American population. Demographers, planners, businessmen, and social scientists use this information to track changes in the location and structure of the population. Then they often make recommendations and decisions on the basis of findings from the census.

This module explores the tabulations of the Census of Population and Housing and some of the basic techniques used to describe and analyze the data contained within it. These techniques form the basis of more sophisticated techniques used by a great many researchers in universities, in businesses, and in government. However, advanced procedures are beyond the introductory scope of this module, and students should consult other sources in texts and journal articles for information on sampling and statistical analysis.


The following chapter looks at the development of the United States census and describes the major digital files that have resulted from data collection in the last two decennial censuses. Various census databases in the Social Sciences Database Archive at CSU Los Angeles are described as are ways of accessing them through the SPSS program available on the computer at that location. In Chapter 2 of this module various methods are presented for describing populations through counts, percentages, density, and mapping. Chapter 3 presents methods for looking at gender and ethnic components of the population, and Chapter 4 explores the age components. Chapter 5 illustrates ways of looking at change in the population between two censuses. Through data provided from the California Department of Finance, population estimates and migration statistics are provided between 1990 and 1997 for California counties. Chapter 6 presents a few simple ways of measuring the spatial components of the population. Finally, Chapter 7 investigates some of the ways that the PUMS database can be used to create special tabulations to control for factors such as gender, education, and income when trying to understand differences between groups. Several important appendices have been attached which provide information on the content and structure of the digital census files.

Data Sets

Six databases have been extracted and included with this file in SPSS Export format. These databases are:
  1. Selected race and housing variables from STF1 for all U.S. cities over 10,000 persons.
  2. Selected variables from STF3 and the 1994 City-County Databook for all U.S. counties.
  3. Race and Hispanic-origin variables for 1980 and 1990 for Burbank and Glendale census tracts.
  4. Age groups for Burbank and Glendale census tracts.
  5. Migration and Mobility Data for California counties.
  6. Household and person PUMS records in the modified SPSS format for PUMA 5200 including the cities of Burbank and Glendale.
Throughout these chapters various tables have been created for the United States, California, Los Angeles County, and Los Angeles City. These are intended to serve as a background against which other local-area tabulations may be compared. For persons interested in other states, similar statistics can be created from files provided by the U.S. Census.

One of the files included with this module (STF3.cbk) is the Census codebook for the STF3 database. This codebook contains important explanations of the collection and processing of the variables, their coding, and their definition. In addition, a table at its end describes the location of the STF3 data on the CD-ROM distributed by the Census Bureau. Another useful file (STF1.dic) contains a description of the variables and their SPSS names necessary for use in a SPSS program.


I would like to thank Professor James P. Allen, Department of Geography, California State University Northridge for his comments and suggestions for this module.

Module Table of Contents