Population Census in Austria-Hungary (1868 – 1910)


Among main purposes of censuses, which were carried out in the territory of Austria-Hungary in the second half of the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th century, were: to find out the up-to-date number of the present population, later also directions of migration, to capture rapid and significant structural changes the society was undergoing at that time as well as to determine the structure of nationalities in individual regions and places. However, due to its marked political aspects, survey on the ethnic composition of population became a closely observed and controversial part of the census.

Population census in 1869 was carried out based on an imperial law on census, which was issued on 29 March 1869; the law stipulated a constant ten-year periodicity of censuses. With the exception of the first census, all the other ones were to be carried out during the midnight from 31 December to 1 January of each year ending with zero. The stipulation was binding until Austria-Hungary ceased to exist.

As for biological characteristics, age and sex were surveyed among population. Recorded were eventual physical handicaps (e.g. in 1869 blindness and deafness), later also mental handicaps. As for social characteristics, citizenship, family status, denomination and language used for communication were surveyed; from 1880 also literacy was surveyed by asking census persons about their ability to read and write. By the question about language used for communication, ethnic composition of population was mapped indirectly. Economic characteristics were also possible to find out from census data (e.g. population was divided by their relation to profession, by branch of activity, by subjective profession, by status in main or secondary profession).

The Ministry of the Interior was authorized to carry out censuses; censuses were managed by district offices. In the territory of individual municipalities, municipal authorities were responsible for carrying out of a census. They also appointed relevant enumerators, who were often teachers or co-operators of municipal authorities. According to prevailing ethnic structure, census sheets were prepared in language versions.
The way of data processing markedly changed. Data from the 1869 and 1880 censuses were sorted and summarised by hand. However, processing of the 1890 census brought a fundamental change: electrical sorting machines of the Hollerith system were used, which not only fastened census processing, but also enabled to substantially enlarge sorting. All results of Austrian censuses were published within source works of Austrian statistics in the series Population Census, although issues were delayed due to lack of finances and some sorting was reduced or absolutely eliminated. Despite that, the most important parts including analytical evaluation were published.

Austrian censuses from 1890-1910 as for their contents, quality of processing and scope of published data belonged to censuses that were organized and carried out very well at that time. Their quality can be documented also by the fact that after a break-up of Austria-Hungary some methods were taken over by the successor states. The census results are still an important source of information on population of the Central European region on the turn of the 19th and 20th century.