CENSUS TAKING IN MALTA
Early Population Counts
In 1240 A.D. circa, a report by a certain Abate Giliberto put the number of families living in the Islands of Malta and Gozo at 1,119. The Archives relating to Maltese medieval demographic history show that a "Census of Population and Production" was conducted in 1481 A.D. Its purpose was to record the local production and stocks of wheat, as well as to enumerate the consumers. At the time of its publication, it was quaintly described as a Census of "months" and "wheat". The results of this Census are not known, but three decades into the 17th century, specifically in 1632, a census recorded the number of people living in the Islands at 51,750. Table 1 depicts a series of population counts and estimates dating to the earliest records up to just before 1842, when the line of "modern censuses" was initiated. This table should be read with caution. Modern research has demonstrated the need to be extremely wary of the use of information emanating from early population counts. Documentation on Maltese medieval history is scanty and often unreliable when dealing with demographic and social data. It would seem that, in so far as demographic data prior to the 19th century are concerned, the only two reliable sources are (1) the Militia Lists and (2) the Parochial Registers.
Table 1. Population censuse and estimates pior to 1842
|Source: Adapted from Census 1957|
Censuses in the 19th Century
When the troops of the first French Republic invaded Malta in 1798, the Maltese population was said to number over 100,000. Depredations during the French siege of Valletta brought it down to 93,054 (Census in 1807). The information for this Census, which showed that 31 per cent of the population was concentrated in the environs of Valletta and Floriana, was abstracted from parochial registers. According to a detailed report on the 1813 plague by Dr. W.H. Burrell, Principal Medical Officer of the Army in Malta, the total population was estimated at 111,000.
On March 21, 1842 the first census in a series of decennial censuses of which the 2005 Census will be the 16th in line was carried out. This series was interrupted in the Second World War and in 1977 when, according to the criterion of the ten-year interval, a census should have been taken, but was not. The five censuses held between 1842 and 1881 were authorised by an Official Notice published in the Malta Government Gazette. Each housekeeper or head of the household was required to complete a form that was delivered by an official enumerator on a fixed date and subsequently collected, duly filled, five days after. In view of the widespread illiteracy, the Notice stated:
"... to the effect that such forms may be filled up with accuracy and despatch, the Governor requests the well-informed and respectable inhabitants to assist their neighbours in furnishing the required information.”
Censuses in the 20th Century
The subsequent five censuses, taken between 1891 and 1931, were underpinned by an Ordinance empowering the Governor to formulate regulations for the taking of a census within a specified period. This was Ordinance No. II of 1891. This year marked the first time that a penalty clause for non-response was inserted into census legislation. In fact, Preliminary Remark No. 6 of the General Report on the 1891 Census states:
"no serious obstacles were met with in the enumeration, and in the few instances in which information was refused, a simple warning that persons refusing to give the required information were liable to the penalties established by Law for contraventions sufficed to overcome all opposition.”
Permanent legislation for the taking of a census of population was enacted in Malta in 1948 on the occasion of the post-Second-World-War Census. Act II of 1948 was passed by the Legislative Assembly and assented to by the Governor of Malta, Governor Sir Francis C.R. Douglas on 28th February 1948. This Act constitutes the legal basis for all the population censuses taken in and after 1948 and also for the Census to be carried out in November 2005. Table 2 presents a silhouette of all the censuses carried out from 1842 to date.
Table 2. Population: 1842-1995
||Percentage intercensal increase/decrease
||No of males per 1,000 females|
|1842, March 21
|1851, March 31
|1861, October 31
|1871, May 3
|1881, April 3
|1891, April 5
|1901, March 31
|1911, April 2
|1921, April 24
|1931, April 26
|1948, June 14
|1957, November 30
|1967, November 26
|1985, November 16
|1995, November 26
Method of Conducting the Census
There are two universally-adopted methods for the taking of a census - the ‘de facto’ and the ‘de jure’ methods. The ‘de facto’ method concerns the enumeration of the population of a place at the time the Census is taken, irrespective of whether the person is at his usual place of residence or not. By means of the ‘de jure’ method, a person enumerated away from his usual place of residence is referred to the area of his usual residence. By means of this approach therefore, all persons are finally recorded in the locality in which they reside permanently.
Up to the 1931 Census, censuses in Malta were conducted using the ‘de facto’ approach. The 1948 Census was the first one taken using the ‘de jure’ method, an approach that applied also to the methodology employed in all subsequent population and housing censuses, and which will be utilised in the 2005 Census.
Processing Census Data
No machinery was used for the tabulation of the 1948 Census data. All the work was performed manually by means of worksheets and the transcription of head counts onto a series of summary sheets. These were then used to compile the various tables prepared to show the information in the desired variables.
For the 1957 and 1967 Censuses, the completed enumeration schedules were centralised in the Census Office. The coding, checking and tabulating of the data followed in readiness for the transfer of this information by machine operators to Hollerith punch cards. Data Processing technology was first used in the course of the 1985 Census, when the information collected was transferred to computer files on a 100-per-cent basis. Computers were extensively in evidence in the 1995 Census, with the data being processed in a data-entry pool peopled by about 20 operators entering and verifying data at their personal computers linked in a single network.
A Hollerith punch card. The Hollerith machine system was used from the mid-Fifties onwards by Maltese government departments for the processing of all types of data. For several years, the machinery was centralised at the Central Office of Statistics (NSO Archives)
Table 3 comprises the schedule of census publication issued since 1957.
Table 3. A stock-take of census publications since 1957
|1957 Census Silhouette
||Report on Housing Characteristics
||A Demographic Profile of Malta and Gozo
||Vol.1 Population, Age, Gender and Citizenship|
|Report on Population and Housing
||Report on Economics Activities Vols I & II
||A Computer-drawn Demographic Atlas of Malta and Gozo
|Report on Economic Activities
||Report on Population Characteristics
||Vol.3 Nuptiality and Households|
|Maltese Life Table
||Vol.4 Education and Economic Activity|
||Vol.5 Migration, Returned Emigrants and Miscellaneous|
|Source: Compiled from various COS censuses