Selected Census Terminology

A short list of Census terms and acronyms that can be confusing.

More extensive (and detailed) information is available in the Census Bureau's WebpageTechnical Documentation and Glossary.

Term Definition
100% data

Data collected during the decennial census (the latest being conducted in 2010) from every household. Variables include population and household size, ages, sex, and race.


American Community Survey - Ongoing survey that provides data every year. About 3 million addresses are randomly selected to participate annually. Questions are asked that are similar to the those asked in 2000 and previous Censuses on what was known as the Long Form, including questions pertaining to income, your physical house, employment, and other financial details.

ACS data are released as 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year estimates. 1-year estimates are based on data collected from just the past year, and include the smallest sample size; while 5-year estimates are based on data collected over the past 5 years, and include the largest sample size.


A complete enumeration of a population. In the U.S., a census is mandated by the Constitution every ten years for the purposes of redistricting. The census is taken in years ending in zero.

Census block Smallest Census geography for 100% data.

Census Designated Place - A geography equivalent to an incorporated place; local input is solicited prior to a census to designate CDPs. See Census Geographies for more detail.

see also, place


Core Based Statistical Area - The new definition of metropolitan areas that replaced MSAs after the 2000 census; definition relies more on commuting patterns and not just population density around a metropolitan core; smallest component geographies are still counties. Because these geographies were formulated after Census 2000, more information about them is not in the regular glossary.

see also, metropolitan, MeSA, MiSA, MSA

decennial Taking place every tenth year

To the Census Bureau, a sociological construct indicating the type of culture in which one grew up. For example, a person of Asian or Pacific Islander race might consider him- or herself to be of Hispanic ethnicity if he/she grew up in Puerto Rico.

see also, Race


A subset of households in which the persons are related; therefore requires at least two persons in the household (excludes one-person households)

see also household

group quarters Any place where people live together on a more than temporary basis; some GQs include military barracks, prisons (NOT jails), nursing homes (NOT hospitals); college residence halls; workers’ dormitories; and facilities for people needing emergency shelter (domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, natural disaster shelters, etc.). Populations in group quarters are usually not related to one another.
housing unit

Any residence: includes apartments, stand-alone houses, trailers, boats, RVs, vans, etc.

see also, household


An occupied housing unit with any number of people

see also, family, housing unit


Not equivalent to "urban"; determined bypopulation density but also commuting patterns in relation to a city - consequently an area may be part of a CMSA but be quite rural in character

see also, CBSA, MeSA, MiSA, MSA


Metropolitan Statistical Area - Geography created by the Bureau to analyze heavily populated areas around cities; county-based except in New England where MSAs were formed around minor civil divisions; definition relied heavily on continuous population density around a city; definition revised after the 2000 Census to account for bedroom communities, placing greater emphasis on commuting patterns.

see also, CBSA, metropolitan, MeSA, MiSA


Metropolitan Statistical Area - NOT the same as MSA, sometimes referred to as metro areas; has a core urban area of 50,000 or more population; with MiSAs, make up CBSAs

see also, CBSA, metropolitan, MiSA, MSA


Micropolitan Statistical Area - Contains an urban core of at least 10,000 (but less than 50,000) population; with MeSAs, make up CBSAs

see also, CBSA, metropolitan, MeSA, MSA


Bureau's term for any municipality regardless of size (town, city, village, etc.). Includes CDPs.

see also, CDP

population for whom poverty status is determined

The universe for poverty tables; poverty status is not determined for anyone living in group quarters

see also, group quarters, universe

PUMS Public Use Microdata Sample - Specially selected extracts of raw data from a small sample of long-form census records that are screened to protect confidentiality; two PUMS samples are available for Census 2000, a 1% and a 5% sample.

To the Census Bureau, a physical construct quite independent of ethnicity. The Bureau accepted six race categories: white, black or African American; American Indian or Alaskan Native; Asian; Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander; and a fill-in category, some other race. A significant change in Census 2000 was permitting respondents to choose as many race categories as they wished. Consequently race data in Census 2000 is presented in ranges from the smallest number, those respondents who only chose one race category, up to the largest number of anyone who chose a given race in combination with any other race.

see also, ethnicity

tenure In the census, whether someone rents or owns their home
tract A census geography, smaller than a county, whose size depends on population density.

For each data table, the population considered; will be noted at the top of the table by the title. Poverty tables only look at the "population for which poverty status is determined." Educational attainment is judged only for the population 25 years and older, figuring that the majority of the population will not have finished their education before the age of 25. Employment tables consider only the working population, people who are 16 or older.

see also, population for whom poverty status is determined


Classification assigned at the Census block level primarily on the basis of population density. It is entirely possible for rural blocks to be included within metropolitan areas. Although the urban/rural designation is usually published with the first census data release, the data were not yet available at the time of the Summary File 1 release in April 2001. Consequently, it is not possible to find the urban/rural designation at the block level through American Factfinder, the Census Bureau's online database.

see also, metropolitan


Zip Code Tabulation Area - Census Bureau's geography very roughly equivalent to a (residential) postal zip code. See Census Geographies for more detail.

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