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Chapter 15: Population Statistics and Research

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The content of a population policy cannot be immutable, but will need to be adjusted over time in the light of emerging developments, increased knowledge, and changing attitudes of both government and the general public. Thus, the Commission sees national population policy as an evolving rather than a static instrumentality, whose development and implementation are continuing processes. A nation must observe changes in the number and distribution of its population, evaluate these changes, attempt to affect them in ways that will be useful, measure the impact of steps taken, and adapt and redefine the issues to fit the course of the future that it seeks.

Viewed in this fashion, a policy program represents a course of conduct that requires a continuing feedback of information and appraisal to produce an intelligent and responsive program as experience grows. Statistics provide the descriptive element of the universe of policy concerns; research provides the analytical insight into causal relationships and consequences of the phenomena that statistics reveal and measure. Both statistics and research must underlie the formulation of policy and the design and evaluation of programs.

Public policy in regard to population cannot be intelligently conducted in the absence of timely statistics of high quality on a broad range of subjects. This Commission has received excellent cooperation from the federal statistical agencies, but all too often what they could offer was inadequate to the task.

We have reviewed the principal shortcomings in population statistics for the United States. In doing this, we have sought to anticipate statistical needs for the evolution and modification of public policy in the field of population. We believe our recommendations— building on the considerable strengths of our present statistical system noted in the recent report of the President’s Commission on Federal Statistics—will provide a sound information base for public policy in the population field.

Our statement of information needs is conditioned by the fact that national population policy touches every sector of the population—geographic, ethnic, social, and economic. Since the total effect can be obtained in many different detailed ways, it is upon the details, rather than just upon the net result, that the process must be appraised. The overall result is, of course, important. It matters whether the nation’s population grows rapidly or not; but it matters, perhaps even more, what the components of that growth are—whether changing fertility, mortality, or migration—and where and in what groups the changes are occurring.

The fund of information needed for such appraisal is large, and not cheap to obtain. However, it is basically the same fund that is essential if the entire array of government programs—local, state, and national—are to be well-designed and well-administered. Such programs involve the commitment of almost unbelievably large sums in the fields of health, welfare, education, housing, urban planning, transportation, and the whole gamut of economic planning. Small gains in the efficiency with which such funds are utilized would quickly more than repay the costs of collecting and analyzing the needed information.

Thanks to this larger significance of the nation’s information base, we have no reluctance in recommending strongly the enrichment of our knowledge on the social and economic side of demographic questions as we have done elsewhere on the biomedical side. In both statistical and research programs, we put a high priority on observance of the respondent’s privacy, on the use of sampling where it can be substituted for complete enumeration, and on the timeliness, comprehensiveness, and reliability of the data.


The Commission recommends that the federal government move promptly and boldly to strengthen the basic statistics and research upon which all sound demographic, social, and economic policy must ultimately depend, by implementing the following specific improvements in these programs.


Vital Statistics Data

At present, there is a minimum two-year delay in the publication of final and detailed data on births and deaths. In spring 1972, the most recent detailed vital statistics available were for 1968. This delay has done much to reduce the value of the information collected because all major analyses of trends in fertility and mortality at the national and local, socioeconomic and racial levels are dependent on these detailed tabulations. Moreover, the detailed tabulations furnish indispensable raw materials for the construction of intercensal estimates of the changing population of regions and localities.

Also needed is the modernization of both birth and death certificates to improve the identification of the social, economic, and medical situations of individuals and families and, in the case of births, to improve the analysis of their timing by collecting information about the intervals between births.

For marriage and divorce, only the number of total events is collected from all of the states. The registration system which provides details about the location and characteristics of the individuals involved covers only 40 states and the District of Columbia in the case of marriage, and 29 states in the case of divorce. On these subjects, we have about the poorest statistics of any advanced country.


The Commission recommends that the National Center for Health Statistics improve the timeliness and the quality of data collected with respect to birth, death, marriage, and divorce.


More particularly, the National Center for Health Statistics should:

1. Aggressively pursue its “catch-up” program for the processing of birth and death registration statistics, aiming at the earliest practicable date to achieve reporting of detailed data for each year within six months following the close of that year, and move toward quarterly processing and reporting of these data on a flow basis. Eventually, the same goals should be sought for the reporting of marriage and divorce.

2. Explore the development of a system for priority sampling of birth certificates on a current flow basis that would permit the calculation and reporting of fertility rates specific for age and other characteristics more promptly than is permitted by even the best possible system for processing the entire mass of data.

3. Undertake a crash program to qualify all states to participate in the marriage and divorce registration area; to institute follow-back surveys for samples of marriages and divorces, such as the present natality and mortality follow-back surveys; to develop information sources on family formation and dissolution, and the fertility and other demographic consequences of family dynamics.

4. Enrich our data about the social, economic, and ethnic factors related to births, deaths, marriages, and divorces.

5. Modernize the birth and death certificates.


Enumeration of Special Groups

Population counts are the subject of considerable controversy about the correct number of blacks and persons of Spanish origin in the population. Incomplete enumeration not only hampers the analysis of our changing demographic situation, it also reduces the claims, especially of our poorest populations, for the many local, state, and federal programs to which funds are allocated on the basis of population counts.


The Commission recommends that the federal government support, even more strongly, the Census Bureau’s efforts to improve the completeness of our census enumeration, especially of minority groups, ghetto populations, and all unattached adults, especially males, who are the least well counted.


International Migration

Immigrants now contribute one-fifth of our annual population growth. Yet when this Commission tried to find out what becomes of immigrants after they arrive, what kinds of communities and neighborhoods they go to, the jobs they get, the incomes they earn, their marriage and childbearing patterns and subsequent mortality—in other words, bow immigrants are fitting into our society and what kind of impact they have—we could learn very little. Nor could we obtain any but the crudest estimates of the number of Americans emigrating from this country, or the coming and going of civilian citizens. And usable figures on illegal immigration are nonexistent.


The Commission recommends that a task force be designated under the leadership of the Office of Management and Budget to devise a program for the development of comprehensive immigration and emigration statistics, and to recommend ways in which the records of the periodic alien registrations should be processed to provide information on the distribution and characteristics of aliens in the United States.


A mid-decade census containing information on year of immigration has a potentially large contribution to make in this connection.


The Current Population Survey

Jointly sponsored by the Bureau of the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics and administered since the late 19 30’s by the Census Bureau, the monthly Current Population Survey has developed into the nation’s principal instrument for providing information about changes in the characteristics of the nation’s population between the censuses. By reaching a sample of some 45 to 50 thousand dwellings, it provides precise national estimates, not only of the labor force and employment status, but also information about the socioeconomic characteristics of households and individuals. It also provides usable estimates for geographic divisions and for the larger states and metropolitan regions.

Procedures should be developed to provide more precise information on geographic location, both for the current residence of those interviewed and for the prior residence of persons who have moved. It should be possible to distinguish with reasonable precision such categories as urban versus rural, inside versus outside the central city, and residence inside versus outside incorporated places.

A program of supplementary surveys, including occasional selective supplementation of sample size, should be generated to provide socioeconomic and other data for special groups of the population, such as Spanish-Americans, and for special types of communities whose characteristics make them important for questions of population distribution. The survey should also be liberally employed to ascertain trends in fertility rates and internal migration.


The Commission recommends that the government provide substantial additional support to the Current Population Survey to improve the area identification of those interviewed and to permit special studies, utilizing enlarged samples, of demographic trends in special groups of the population.


Statistical Reporting of Family Planning Services

The public investment in and commitment to family planning services require the earliest possible development of a comprehensive program of family planning statistics. As a first step in this direction, the National Center for Health Statistics initiated, in January 1972, a national reporting system for family planning services provided in clinics. Coverage includes patients receiving services supported through the family planning project grants funded by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and the Office of Economic Opportunity, and the nonfederally funded Planned Parenthood programs.

The national reporting system could potentially include all patients to whom family planning services are provided. Accordingly, all government statistical programs on health services which could provide statistics on family planning services should do so. Only when all patient contacts are included can truly national statistics be developed.

The National Center for Health Statistics should take the leadership in the development of uniform statistical definitions and standards for a coordinated federal-state-local system.


The Commission recommends the rapid development of comprehensive statistics on family planning services.


National Survey of Family Growth

Achieving a policy on population growth and implementing the nation’s commitment to family planning assistance will require a flow of data regularly available, at comparatively brief intervals, on factors influencing fertility, such as desired family size, birth-spacing intentions, family planning practices, and the home, neighborhood, and socioeconomic environment of family growth and family-growth decisions. The feasibility of such work has been demonstrated in a series of surveys undertaken since 1955 by private organizations. The National Center for Health Statistics now proposes a biennial survey of family growth for a substantially enlarged household sample to improve the accuracy and scope of national estimates. Funding for preparatory work has been approved, and the National Center for Health Statistics plans to undertake the initial survey of family growth in late 1972.


The Commission recommends program support and continued adequate financial support for the Family Growth Survey as almost the first condition for evaluating the effectiveness of national population policies and programs.


Distribution of Government Data

Inevitably, formally published tabulations of governmental data cannot begin to exhaust the information contained in complex collections. At present, invaluable stores of information are never used. Computer technology now makes it possible to issue identity-free tapes of such data designed to meet the needs of particular research projects, thereby greatly multiplying the value of the stock of information, while guarding the rights of the individuals who provided it.


The Commission recommends that the various statistical agencies seek to maximize the public usefulness of the basic data by making identity-free tapes available to responsible research agencies.


Mid-Decade Census

Our decennial censuses, together with our vital and migration statistics, provide the materials for developing quite accurate annual estimates of the nation’s total population classified by age, sex, and race. They are wholly inadequate, however, to permit the construction of annual estimates for regions, states, and local areas, or to portray the intercensal social and economic status of the nation’s constituent populations. The interval of 10 years between censuses—a leisurely pace established in the 18th century—is simply too long in view of the high mobility of our people. Under the best of circumstances, annual local estimates will be difficult to obtain, but the problems would be greatly reduced if the intervals between the total counts were five rather than 10 years. In addition, while sample surveys provide national data between censuses, decentralized decision making at the state and local level requires that these areas have reasonably current, detailed, quality data about their own areas. Only a national census (incorporating sampling principles as appropriate) can provide such data, because it alone can provide the standardization of content, definitions, and processing procedures which guarantee that a statistic for one place means the same as a statistic for another place.


The Commission recommends that the decennial census be supplemented by a mid-decade census of the population.


Statistical Use of Administrative Records

The addition of the county of residence to the information reported on the individual income tax return, and the inclusion of this entry in the taxpayer’s identification file, would materially assist in the solution of problems now encountered by statistical agencies attempting to use taxpayer residence changes in the estimation of internal migration. Similarly, the Social Security Administration could greatly assist in estimating interstate and inter-area migration if its identity-deleted one-percent sample of social security account holders were increased to a 10-percent sample.


The Commission recommends that the government give high priority to studying the ways in which federal administrative records, notably those of the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration, could be made more useful for developing statistical estimates of local population and internal migration.


Intercensal Population Estimates

Close local and federal cooperation is essential for the construction of adequate annual estimates of population. Local people have special access to local data, but the problems of coordinating all the local estimates to state, regional, and national totals must be solved at the national level. The fund of professional experience for technical aid on methodological problems is also best located at the national level. The Census Bureau’s program for local population estimates should be expanded to encompass annual estimates for all congressional districts, all metropolitan areas, and all cities and counties having 25,000 or more inhabitants. The Census Bureau’s resources for developing, testing, and experimenting with improved sources and methods for population estimates should be expanded, and this support should also include resources for gaining access to, extracting, and processing relevant information from administrative records of federal, state, or local governments, such as tax records, school enrollment records, and the like.


The Commission recommends that the government provide increased funding, higher priority, and accelerated development for all phases of the Census Bureau’s program for developing improved intercensal population estimates for states and local areas.


Social and Behavioral Research

The Center for Population Research of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare has responsibility for promoting and guiding research in both the biomedical aspects of reproduction and contraceptive development and in the social and behavioral concerns of population. The Center’s role in the first area is acknowledged and reasonably well-developed. Social and behavioral research has not been given equal emphasis. This is perhaps because of a bias imposed by location of the Center within the National Institutes of Health. However, since the mandate of P.L. 91-572 includes investigation of the social and behavioral aspects of population, there is no reason that the Center or its successor, given adequate leadership and staff, cannot support a sufficient program in these areas as well.

Another reason that social and behavioral research has not been sufficient has been the general scarcity of funds for all types of population research. In fiscal year 1972, only $6.7 million of the $39.3 million spent on population research was devoted to behavioral aspects. Recent estimates are that federal support for social and behavioral research in population should be increased over the next several years to a total of about $50 million annually.1 (See Chapter 11 for discussion of research into methods by which individuals may control their fertility.)

Research is needed on a broad range of topics in the behavioral sciences to develop the knowledge required for the formulation of population policy objectives and effective means to achieve them. A major component of this research must be directed toward increasing our knowledge of the effects of population changes on the many factors that determine the quality of life in the United States, such as economic growth, resources, environmental quality, and government services.

Since the effects of population change are diffuse and pervasive, the research questions are numerous and varied. The many gaps in our knowledge are abundantly clear in this Report. Many others are reflected by, and indicated in, the background papers commissioned for this Report, which will be published in several volumes.* The following paragraphs are intended only to illustrate the research needed.

*A list of these papers appears in the Appendix of this Report.


Research on the consequences of population change must deal not only with population size and rates of change, but also with childbearing patterns (as reflected in ages at marriage and parenthood, lengths of intervals between births, and so forth), changing age composition, shifting geographic distributions, changing patterns of metropolitan and nonmetropolitan residence, increasing scales of social organization, density, and the like.

Studies should not be limited to “macro” phenomena, but should also explore the consequences of population dynamics at the family and individual level. For example, an important set of problems involves the immediate and long-term consequences, to mothers as well as children, of births to unmarried women. Other questions requiring investigation deal with the effects of family size and child-spacing patterns on the health and development of children.

The consequences of various migration patterns are of great importance to our society. For example, how do movements from rural to urban areas affect the quality of public services available in areas of origin and destination? How do great increases in the number of people in a jurisdiction affect the relationship of the citizen to his local government? How do various patterns of residential use affect the physical environment? What are the likely consequences of projected population decline in many metropolitan areas, associated with national population stabilization? Without answers to many of these questions, it is difficult to formulate reasonable policy objectives, either locally or nationally.

Also within the field of population distribution, research is needed which more clearly differentiates the factors perpetuating residential segregation. Racial discrimination is clearly an important factor, for even when economic differences between races are taken into account, residential segregation persists. Prejudice is not the only manifestation of racial discrimination. There are also institutional barriers which operate to keep racial minorities segregated residentially. These barriers need to be specified and their effects understood.

Another broad area of research requiring further development involves the determinants of population trends. Knowledge of the causes of population change is needed to permit the formulation of population policies that have a reasonable chance of helping us to achieve our objectives. For example, at the present time, it appears that if all couples had effective control of their fertility, we might achieve fertility rates consistent with the replacement, rather than the continued increase, of our population. However, we do not know whether current family-size preferences will change, and we know little about what causes these preferences to change. Following World War II, the United States, as well as a number of other developed countries, experienced a substantial rise in fertility after a century of decline. We understand very little about why this happened, and we cannot be certain that a similar phenomenon will not occur again.

At the family and individual level, much more needs to be known about the factors affecting the control of fertility. We know, for example, that strongly motivated couples can limit their fertility with relatively ineffective contraceptive measures. On the other hand, even when highly effective measures are available, some couples have several unintended conceptions. There are many theories about the factors affecting success or failure in the control of fertility, but little solid knowledge.

An important area of research must involve the family as a dynamic institution. Not only do specific families change through the years, but the meaning and the functions of the institution itself change. Since population phenomena (births, deaths, and migration) inevitably involve the family, a major emphasis on the family is necessary in any research on the causes and consequences of population change. This will also necessarily lead to research on the changing roles of women in our society and the effects of these changes on the family and on reproduction.

Finally, increasingly important areas of research involve studies of the effectiveness of governmental programs and policies that affect population change. Of major importance now are family planning services. To what extent are they reaching the people who need them? To what extent are they helping couples to achieve their family-size and child-spacing goals? Do they affect the contraceptive practices of couples who no longer use the services offered? Beyond family planning, there are policy questions affecting fertility, migration, and mortality. For example, to what extent lo various income-maintenance programs influence family-size and migration patterns? How do agricultural programs affect rural-urban population movements? How do family life education programs affect premarital sexual behavior and decisions to marry? The questions seem varied and unlimited, but research must begin to explore them if we are to learn how current and future programs and policies will affect the quantity and quality of our population.

The research needed in the social and behavioral sciences will require the expertise of many disciplines: demography, sociology, economics, anthropology, psychology, history, geography, and political science. To encourage and facilitate this research and research in basic reproductive physiology and development of methods of fertility control, a number of interdisciplinary population research centers should be supported in universities and other nongovernmental centers. In fiscal rear 1972, federal support for such centers was only $1.5 million. Estimates are that about $11.5 million should be made available annually for this purpose within the next five years.2 With the concerted efforts of natural and social scientists in such centers and elsewhere, we can build a solid foundation for intelligently dealing with population-related problems in our society.


The Commission recommends that substantial increases in federal funds be made available for social and behavioral research related to population growth and distribution, and for the support of nongovernmental population research centers.


Research Program in Population Distribution

A center or sponsoring organizational unit and a funded research program should also be developed for those studies of population distribution needed for policy formation and program guidance in the fields of housing, urban and economic development, and transportation. The research program of this center should be carefully coordinated with the program of the Center for Population Research, which should continue to have responsibility for general research on questions of population distribution and migration. The most abysmal ignorance exists concerning the nature and effects of changes in the population size of regions and communities in relation to economic, social, and governmental institutions and processes, and to the physical, human, and environmental factors of life. Yet hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on programs directly influencing them in the fields of transportation, housing, and community and regional development. There is an urgent need for the development of research capability for understanding how population redistribution affects government activities as well as how government programs affect population distribution.


The Commission recommends that a research program in population distribution be established, preferably within the proposed Department of Community Development, funded by a small percentage assessment on funds appropriated for relevant federal programs.


However, the establishment of this research program should not be dependent upon the creation of the Department of Community Development. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has requested funds to begin such a program. We believe it should be initiated as quickly as possible.


Federal Government Population Research

In the economic field, the federal data-collection agencies have for years been conducting highly useful research and analytical work that has been widely used in the development of national policy. This is not so for federal demographic and social statistics. Here, most data-collection agencies have research programs dealing with their own techniques of collecting and processing data. This is necessary but not sufficient. To exploit adequately their special skills and knowledge, these agencies should also have staff and resources devoted to research that utilizes the data they produce and relevant data from other sources as well. A small but successful example is the Office of Health Statistics Analysis in the National Center for Health Statistics. Funding should provide core support for the agencies’ own research work and for the grant and contract funding of projects that serve to stimulate the agencies’ own work.


The Commission recommends that the federal government foster the “in-house” research capabilities of its own agencies to provide a coherent institutional structure for improving population research.


Support for Professional Training

Finally, it should also be noted that the very large expansion of research and statistical work that has already taken place in the demographic field, not to mention that still to come, is creating heavy demands for able and highly trained personnel. The situation is extremely tight and inevitably will become worse unless strong measures are taken to increase the supply. Meanwhile, there are training facilities that suddenly have few students because of the curtailment of governmental support in spite of the continuing demand. Several years from now, if support for graduate training does not become available, there will be an even greater shortage of skilled personnel.


The Commission recommends that support for training in (lie social and behavioral aspects of population be exempted from the general freeze on training funds, permitting government agencies to support programs to train scientists specializing in this field.


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