Attachment C: Historical Treatment of Citizenship in the Decennial Census and the American Community Survey
Earliest U.S. Decennial Censuses
- Pre-1820: Citizenship not included in the act prescribing the first U.S. decennial census in 1790. During debate of the act to authorize the 1800 census, Congress received memorials from the American Philosophical Society (signed by the society’s president, Thomas Jefferson, then serving as vice president of the United States and who had overseen the 1790 census as secretary of state) and the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences. Both argued for significant expansion in the topic coverage of the census—including request for a count of “the respective numbers of native citizens, citizens of foreign birth, and of aliens” or “the number of natives and of persons not born in the United States” (Wright and Hunt, 1900, pp. 19–20). However, Congress did not act on the advice.
- First Inclusion, 1820: Household count of “Foreigners not naturalized” added to the census schedule by authorizing act (3 Stat. 550). Marshals were instructed that—“subsidiary” to obtaining the aggregate population count—the purpose of the census is to “ascertain in detail the proportional numbers of which [that population] is composed,” including (among numerous other characteristics) “as citizens or foreigners” (Wright and Hunt, 1900, p. 133).
- 1830: Citizenship item revised to a household count of "ALIENS—Foreigners not naturalized", applicable only to "White persons included in the foregoing" age/sex categories (4 Stat. 389). The item was dropped from the act authorizing the 1840 census and not reinstated for the 1850 census, whose authorizing law also governed the 1860 census.
Resurgence, and Evolution as Naturalization Question
- 1870: Under the heading "Constitutional relations, "two columns directed enumerators to record tallies of "male citizens of United States of 21 years of age and upwards." one the total such count and the second being those "whose right to vote is denied or abridged on other grounds than rebellion or other crime" (Wright and Hunt, 1900, p. 155). Technically, the 1870 census was operated under the law authorizing the 1850 census, because the two chambers of Congress deadlocked on passing a new census act in sufficient time. However, the 1850 law did not specify a precise list of questions, which gave 1870 census officials the license to add or revise some data items—and the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment prompted the citizenship questions. The instructions to marshals highlighted the importance of the items: "Upon the answers to the questions under this [Constitutional Relations] head will depend the distribution of representative power in the General Government. It is therefore imperative that this part of the enumeration should be performed with absolute accuracy" (Wright and Hunt, 1900, p. 158). The act for the 1880 census retained an item added in 1870 on the place of birth of each person's parents, but omitted the specific citizenship questions.
- 1890: Citizenship returned to the census schedule/questionnaire, but indirectly. Enumerators were directed to record "place of birth" of each person, their father, and their mother. In all three cases, the directive was to name the state/territory if born in the United States and the country if not. "If the person, or father, or mother were born in a
foreign country of American parents, write the name of the country and also the words American Citizen." "At Sea" was also permitted as a response. "Only those adult males of foreign birth who are 21 years of age or over" were to be asked three questions about naturalization: number of years in the United States; whether naturalized (yes or no); and "whether naturalization papers have been taken out." (Wright and Hunt, 1900, p. 188).
- 1900: Population questionnaire included three columns under the heading "Citizenship": "Year of immigration to the United States," "Number of years in the United States," and "Naturalization" (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1973, p. 94). Per the instructions to enumerators, the naturalization question "applies only to foreign-born males 21 years of age and over." "If he was born abroad, and has taken no steps toward becoming an American citizen, write 'Al' (for alien). If he has declared his intention to become an American citizen and taken out his 'first' papers, write 'Pa' (for papers). If he has become a full citizen by taking out second or final papers of naturalization, write 'Na' (for naturalized)" (Census Office, 1900, p. 31). Moreover, the person's place of birth was retained as a question, reinstating the instruction to write "Am. cit." for "American citizen" for instances of persons "born abroad of American parents" (Census Office, 1900, p. 30). The act authorizing the 1900 census stipulated that "whether alien or naturalized" should be included among the questions, and deferred to "the discretion of the Director" on "the construction and form and number of inquiries necessary" to secure the information required by law (30 Stat. 1015).
- 1910: Citizenship content reduced to two columns, "Year of immigration to the United States" and "Whether naturalized or alien" (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1973, p.105). Data entry for the "Whether naturalized or alien" column used the same codes as the "Naturalization" item in 1900 and the question was still applicable only to foreign-born males age 21 or older. "Am. cit." was still to be used in the place of birth question for persons born abroad of American parents (1910 Instructions to Enumerators, pp. 30-31).
- 1920: Three columns, "Year of immigration to the United States," "Naturalized or alien," and "If naturalized, year of naturalization" (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1973, p.138), with "Naturalized or alien" using the same "Na"/"Pa"/"Al" codes as 1900. However, the "Naturalized or alien" question was expanded in scope to "appl[y] to all foreign-born persons, male and female, of whatever age" (1920 Instructions to Enumerators, p. 29).
- 1930: "Year of immigration to the United States" and "Naturalization" columns, with "Whether able to speak English" added under a "Citizenship, Etc." heading (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1973, p.147). Codes for "Naturalization" remained the same, though the enumerator instructions included detail on how to handle changes in naturalization policy enacted in 1922 (by which foreign-born women no longer acquired citizenship automatically through naturalization of a husband (1930 Instructions to Enumerators, p. 31).
- 1940: Single column included for "Citizenship of the foreign born" (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1973:156), using same codes as 1920 along with "Am Cit" for American citizen born abroad (1940 Instructions to Enumerators, p. 47).
- 1950: Single column "If foreign born—Is he naturalized?," with instructions to code "Yes, no, or AP for born abroad of American parents" (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1973, p.164).
1960 Revision, and the Long-Form-Sample Era
- 1960: Citizenship questions were only asked of residents in New York State and Puerto Rico in the 1960 census; the collection was done in New York "at the expense of the State" in order "to meet State constitutional requirements for State legislative apportionment" (1960 Procedural History, pp. 9-10). One question asked "Where was this person born?", with responses "U.S.", “Puerto Rico", and "Elsewhere," while a follow-up asked "If *not* born in U.S. or Puerto Rico—Is he a U.S. citizen?" (yes/no response; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1973, p. 168).
- 1970: The 1970 census was the first to fully adopt the concept of a “short-form” questionnaire asked of every household and a “long-form” questionnaire containing more detailed questions to be asked only of a sample of the population. In fact, the 1970 census included two long-form samples: a 15-percent sample for which data was deemed necessary in very fine geographic detail (after consultation with federal agencies and other stakeholders), and a 5-percent sample asking for information on characteristics to inform analysis at coarser levels of geography. A two-part citizenship/naturalization question was included on this second, 5-percent long-form-sample questionnaire (1970 Procedural History, pp. 15-16). "For persons born in a foreign country", question 16a asked "Is this person naturalized?", with responses "Yes, naturalized", "No, alien", and "Born abroad of American parents", while 16b asked "When did he come to the United States to stay?" with nine year-range categories (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1973, p. 173).
- 1980: The 1980 census long-form-sample questionnaire included a revised version of the 1970 question. "If this person was born in a foreign country—", question 12a asked "is this person a naturalized citizen of the United States?" (responses "Yes, a naturalized citizen," " No, not a citizen," or "Born abroad of American parents) and question 12b asked "When did this person come to the United States to stay?" with six year-range categories (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002, p. 85). The 1980 census long-form sample covered roughly 19 percent of households.
Modern Question, and the American Community Survey (ACS) Era
- 1990: The citizenship question took its current, basic form in the 1990 census long-form questionnaire, item 9 of which asked "Is this person a CITIZEN of the United States?" Response categories were "Yes, born in the United States;" "Yes, born in Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or Northern Marianas;" "Yes, born abroad of American parent or parents;" "Yes, U.S. citizen by naturalization", and "No, not a U.S. citizen." The follow-up question 10 asked "When did this person come to the United States to stay?" with 10 year-range categories (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002, p. 92). The 1990 census long-from sample was roughly a 1-in-6, 16 percent, sample of households.
- 1996: The pilot version of the American Community Survey (ACS) replicated the citizenship question from the 1990 census.
- 2000: The 2000 census long-form questionnaire repeated the 1990 model with only some minor grammatical or stylistic fixes in the main question (now numbered 13), but the follow-up question "When did this person come to live in the United States?" asked for the year to be written in 4 boxes (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002, p. 101). When the slight fixes (i.e., revising "American parent(s)" to "American parent or parents") were finalized for the 2000 census, the question was revised accordingly in the prototype ACS
(including the Census 2000 Supplementary Survey conducted alongside the 2000 census that gave the ACS nationwide coverage). The question continued in this form in the ACS through 2007. Sampling rates for the 1980 census long-form varied by location (e.g., including additional sample in counties or places with small estimated populations) but averaged the same 1-in-6 rate sample of households.
- 2008–present, including question planned for use in the 2020 census: Minor style revisions (putting "CITIZEN" in lower case and replacing "American parent" with "U.S. citizen parent"), and requesting the year of naturalization, gave the citizenship question its current form in the ACS. The question asks "Is this person a citizen of the United States?" with responses "Yes, born in the United States;" "Yes, born in Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or Northern Marianas;" "Yes, born abroad of U.S. citizen parent or parents;" "Yes, U.S. citizen by naturalization" (respondent is prompted for year of naturalization); and "No, not a U.S. citizen."