NARA expects to digitally release the 1950 population census schedules for researcher use on April 1, 2022, which is 72 years after the official 1950 census day. This is the 21st in a series of blog posts on the 1950 census.
Census questionnaires have changed over time. From 1850 to 1950, six basic questions asked in each census remained the same: name, age, gender, race, occupation, and place of birth. Relationship to head of household was asked from 1880 to 1950, and the citizenship status of each foreign-born person was asked from 1890 to 1950. The nature and number of additional questions has changed over time. This post will take a look at the major differences between the 1940 census and the Form P1, 1950 Census of Population and Housing, that was the standard fill-in-the-blank census form used in most of the continental United States.
The questions on the standard 1940 and 1950 census forms were similar. The most significant differences between them are:
- In 1940, each census page had lines for 40 persons; in 1950, this was reduced to 30 lines in order to ask “sample” questions of more people and give the enumerator space to write notes and explanations if they were needed.
- In 1940, only two persons on each form answered sample questions. In 1950, six people on each form were asked sample questions, and the 6th person answered several additional sample questions.
- In 1940, everyone was asked whether they had lived in the same place, same county, or same state in 1935. In 1950, only persons on six “sample” lines were asked what county and state (or foreign country) they had lived in “a year ago” in 1949.
- In 1940, everyone was asked the highest grade of school they had attended and if they had attended school since March 1, 1940. In 1950, only persons on six “sample” lines were asked the highest grade they had attended, whether they had completed that grade, and whether they had attended school at any time since February 1, 1950.
- In 1940, everyone age 14 or over were asked if they had worked (or been assigned to work) on public emergency work for agencies such as the Work Projects Administration (WPA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and National Youth Administration (NYA) during the week of March 24-31, 1940. Those agencies were abolished during the 1940s so the question was not asked in 1950.
- In 1940, everyone age 14 or over was asked the dollar amount of wages or salary income earned during calendar year 1939, and whether they had received income of more than $50 from sources other than wages or salary (yes/no). In 1950, only persons on six “sample” lines were asked the dollar amount received in 1949 from wages or salary; working in his or her own business, profession, or farm; or from interest, dividends, veteran’s allowances, pensions, rents, or other non-wage or non-salary income. In addition, persons on six “sample” lines were asked how much money their relatives in the same household received from the same sources. If the respondent was not comfortable answering these income questions, the enumerator gave the person a form that could be directly mailed to the Bureau of the Census. The enumerator was to record “10,000+” for anyone who reported an amount more than $10,000. (Average family income in 1950 was $3,300.)
- In 1940, persons on two “sample” lines were asked if they had a Social Security Number (SSN) and whether deductions had been made from their wages or salary in 1939 for Old-Age Insurance or Railroad Retirement. This was not asked in 1950.
- In 1940, persons on two “sample” lines were asked what their usual occupation was and in what industry it had been in. The answers to these questions could be the same or different than the person’s current occupation or industry reported in the main part of the form. In 1950, only the person on the last sample line was asked his or her occupation in their last (previous) job and the industry in which it had been.
- In 1940, persons on two “sample” lines were asked if they were a military veteran, wife or widow of a military veteran, or a child (under age 18) of a military veteran. In 1950, only men on six “sample” lines were asked if they had served in the military in World War II, World War I, or at any other time.