If you’re collecting data, you’ve probably heard the terms “survey” and “census.” But do you know how they differ?

Surveys and censuses are two different methods for gathering data about a population. These two terms often get confused, but they have major differences that you should know about if you’re planning on using one or the other.

Census and survey are two alternate ways of collecting data about a particular population. The main difference between them is that a census is conducted by a government agency and the survey is conducted by an organization or individual.

For example, if you are collecting data about the number of people who have internet access in your country, you can use a census method to get the information from people who have a computer or Internet access. On the other hand, if you want to know how many people have watched videos on YouTube for at least 10 minutes in a week, you may opt for a survey method.

In this article, we will consider surveys and censuses and discuss the differences.

What Is a Survey?

A survey is a process of collecting data, which may be used to obtain information about individuals or groups. The purpose of surveys is to collect data on a variety of topics, such as demographics, opinions, behaviors, and more. 

Surveys are conducted by asking people directly about their opinions and experiences, whether in person or over the phone. This type of survey is usually done for research purposes, to measure public opinion about an issue, or to get feedback from a specific group of people. 

Surveys can be used in a variety of ways: to find out how many people use a certain product or service, to evaluate the quality of different products, and even to assess public opinion. They’re also useful in marketing campaigns because they allow businesses to reach out directly to potential customers without having to spend large amounts of money on advertising.

Surveys are also used to study how people use products or services. A survey can be used to determine what products would sell well in your area or how many people think it’s important for schools to teach math as early as kindergarten.

What Is a Census?

A census is an official enumeration of a country’s population or other jurisdiction. It is conducted by national government agencies in conjunction with local authorities who are responsible for the collection and processing of information from each household either to determine population size or to determine the number of people in certain categories.

The goal of censuses is to provide data that can be analyzed for statistical purposes in order to meet various needs for planning purposes for policy decisions and program evaluation. A census also provides information on population distribution and demographic characteristics such as age, gender, race/ethnicity, occupation, and income level for each household in the country or region being surveyed.

Censuses are also used by organizations that need detailed statistics about their workers, employees, customers, etcetera. Censuses are generally more expensive than surveys because they require more resources and personnel—they don’t just involve asking questions like “Do you like our product?” but also taking photographs of each person’s identity card or passport number for verification purposes

Difference Between Surveys and Censuses

While both surveys and censuses are important tools for collecting information about a population, surveys are generally used as a way to get more specific data than censuses can provide. But there are still some differences between them.

  1. Surveys are used to obtain information about individuals or groups while censuses are used to get statistical data on populations at large
  2. Surveys are conducted by researchers while censuses are conducted by National Census Office (NCO).
  3. Surveys tend not to have as many questions about income as censuses do because that would make them longer and harder for respondents to complete—but surveys can still provide very useful information about specific topics like education level or health status since they ask fewer personal questions.
  4. Surveys are often used to determine how people feel about current issues or products, while censuses are used to determine where people live, how many there are, and their age, gender, race, and other personal characteristics.
  5. Surveys can be done in different ways, but they all require some level of cooperation from the participants. The most common way is to send questionnaires out to people who have given permission to be included in the survey; however, you can also conduct surveys using phone calls or websites that allow people to fill out surveys on their own time (without having to travel). Censuses are typically done by government officials rather than researchers or businesspeople and include information about everyone in a particular geographic area at one point in time. They can also be used for research purposes after being collected for other reasons (for example, when planning for an election).

When To Use a Census As Opposed To a Survey

Surveys are great for getting information that is specific to a particular population. They can be conducted by phone, online, or in person. Survey respondents may provide their own answers, or they may be asked questions that are provided by the survey administrator.

Censuses are similar to surveys in that they allow people to participate voluntarily as part of a larger group like a city or neighborhood association. However, census results are typically used for statistical analysis and to determine where resources should be directed.

Census is used when you need to collect data about the population of any country. The census is carried out in a specific period after the government has been notified about its requirements. It can be conducted by the government or by a private agency hired by the government. 

Surveys on the other hand are conducted when you want to gather information from a large number of people on a specific topic. You can conduct surveys using either paper-based or electronic methods depending on your needs and budget. 

The results of surveys are usually cheaper than those of censuses because you don’t need to hire many people or an entire organization.

Advantages of Surveys vs Censuses

  1. The main advantage of using a census is that it is always up-to-date and provides information about all people who live in an area. 
  2. Censuses are a great way to get a general picture of a population. They’re useful for demographic studies, and they can be used to determine the age distribution of the population. The information can also be used to estimate the number of people in your target audience. Surveys, on the other hand, are more focused on understanding and responding to specific questions from your target audience. You can use them when you want to collect feedback from respondents, and you might use them over a longer period of time if you want them to reflect changes in behavior or attitudes over time.
  3. Surveys benefit from being able to reach more people than censuses can. They’re also less expensive because you don’t have to hire as many people for a survey as you do for a census; instead, you can rely on volunteers who may not even be paid for their time at all.
  4.  The census is used by governments to see if any changes need to be made in their policies and laws based on what they learn from the results.

Disadvantages of Surveys vs Censuses

  1. Survey has been criticized for not being able to get enough responses from the respondents and having a low response rate.
  2. Censuses are expensive to run, so they are usually done only once per decade.
  3. Surveys tend to be good at creating lots of data quickly, but they don’t capture the whole picture; they can’t tell you who didn’t respond or who didn’t answer correctly, or who isn’t ready yet. They also can be expensive and time-consuming, which means they don’t work well in cases where there’s not enough time or money available for them to run regularly (like an emergency).



Surveys and censuses are both ways to get information about the people and places of your community. They’re both important for different reasons that have been discussed above.

It is also important to note that censuses have been around since ancient times, and they have been used to collect information about economic activity, health conditions, and other demographics in order to gauge the health of a country. And although censuses and surveys provide valuable information about how people live their lives and what they’re interested in, they are not the same.

  • Olayemi Jemimah Aransiola
  • on 7 min read


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